Books and movies are not always the most accurate when it comes to being about someone else’s life, but they still make learning fun. Some of the best lesbian-related content on film has come from real life queer women (features like Frida, or documentaries like Freeheld), and biographies like 2010’s The Talented Miss Highsmith gave us insight into a woman most people knew little about, other than that she loved drinking and murdering people in her mysteries.
Still there are not nearly enough films and books dedicated to some of the out women we love, and would love to know more about. So, group, who would you want to see behind-the-scenes?
The Linster: Every time I watch The Rachel Maddow Show and she gets going on one of her brilliant and funny rants, I think, “I wish she would write a book.” I know she is scheduled to write one about something, but not about herself. And that would be the best — a book about Rachel, by Rachel. I want to know the whole story, from blonde bombshell to geek goddess, and only she could do it justice.
She could call it, Maddow ‘bout Rachel. Or not.
Courtney Gillette: Way before Janelle Monae made cute suits her signature, or Lady Gaga was flaunting her alter ego Jo Calderone, there was Gladys Bentley, flirting and singing the blues in men’s clothing during the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance.
Why no one has paid Betley homage with a proper documentary or biography is baffling to me. She wasn’t just into women (gossip columns were all a twitter when Bentley married a white woman in Atlantic City), she was an openly lesbian performer, who sang the blues not only at rent parties and speakeasies but at well known gay establishments. As for her style and preference for suits (and top hats! Homegirl rocks a top hat like nobody’s business!), she later told Ebony magazine, “It seems I was born different. At least, I always thought so….From the time I can remember anything, even as I was toddling, I never wanted a man to touch me…Soon I began to feel more comfortable in boys clothes than in dresses.”
The sad ending, though, came when Betley caved to the conservative pressures of the McCarthy era and “reformed,” marrying a dude, donning dresses, and saying she’d been cured. She also denounced her former ways as an effort to gain a mainstream audience, but that flopped. Gossip, style, blues, speakeasies, love affairs: Gladys Bentley’s life has the makings of some killer nonfiction. Who’s game?
Mia Jones: The queer woman I’d love to see a documentary about is Gladys Bentley. She was not only a musician during the Harlem Renaissance, she was also a big ol’ bulldagger. She was way ahead of her time and would always wear tuxedos and top hats while serenading women. Even if the film wouldn’t have a happy ending (she died from the flu at the age of 52), I think it would be really interesting to go back to that time and the rich culture and arts it gave us.
Heather Hogan: I would sit through an eight-hour documentary on the life of Sheryl Swoopes, from her time on The Little Dribblers when she was seven all the way through her Texas Tech national championship years, and her three Olympic gold medals years, and her first-woman-with-a-shoe-contract-from-Nike years, and her first-player-to-sign-with-the-WNBA-years, and her by-the-way-I’m-gay years. Boys my age grew up on Michael Jordan. I grew up on Sheryl Swoopes. She’s as big a role model to me today as she was when I was just a Little Dribbler.
Karman Kregloe: My standard answer to this question is Natalie Barney (1876-1972). The life of the writer, organizer of star-studded literary salons, bon vivant and, most importantly, great seducer of women, is one that I think is made for the big screen. Henry and June (about Anais Nin and her relationships with writer Henry Miller and his wife) is one of my favorites, and I’d like to think that Barney’s story would stand up as a sort of lesbian version, full of adventure, sex, intrigue and great writing.
But this time, I’m going with Lily Tomlin (b. 1939). The out comic/writer/actress is still performing (I saw one epic show a few years ago that I think would have easily exhausted a performer half her age) and also presumably available as a consultant (or maybe even writer) for the telling of her own story. Even today, nearly 40 years after her first television performance, women don’t get the respect or exposure they deserve in the comedy world. So imagine what it must have been like for her to come on the scene. I’d love to see her early stand-up career in Detroit and New York and her star-making turn on the sketch comedy show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.
Perhaps more than anything, I’d love to get a peek behind-the-scenes of the feminist revenge fantasy 9 to 5 (1980, co-starring Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda). I have to admit though, an in-depth look back at the so-bad-it’s-good (well, maybe not quite) romantic turkey Moment By Moment (1978, co-starring John Travolta as her love interest) written and directed by her partner of 40 years, Jane Wagner, is the real guilty lure here for me. The poster suggests that we could easily view it as a groundbreaking lesbian love story for its time!
All kidding aside, Tomlin’s work (most of it done with Wagner) is always quietly radical and intelligent, and she’s been a huge influence on all of the women who make you laugh today. I hereby dare some talented women to make a brilliant film about her life!
Trish Bendix: I would die to read a biography of Chantal Akerman. The out Belgian filmmaker was behind one of the first ever lesbian sex scenes on film in her 1974 movie Je tu il elle. She’s controversial because, even though she’s a lesbian and has included LGBT themes in her work, she doesn’t want her work to be shown as part of gay and lesbian film festivals in fear of becoming “ghettoized.” Also, her films are French, and I am sort of a Francophile. In short, I bet she’s got a juicy private life.
What out woman would you love to see in a film or read a book about?