“Sugar Boxx” introduces the LBI: Lesbian Before Incarceration

When we hear the words “lesbian” and “camp” in the same sentence, we’re more likely to think about summer weekends than movies. But Sugar Boxx, released this week on DVD and starting a run on Showtime Friday, is not a likely movie.

For one thing, it’s a women-in-prison movie without an actual prison. Producers didn’t have the budget for a prison cell, so most of the action takes place outside, in a “work camp.”

But for us, the real difference between Sugar Boxx and similarly themed B-movies is its portrayal of lesbians. Instead of just picturing butch guards or cellmates that force young, innocent newbies into sexual servitude in exchange for protection, Sugar Boxx features a character who’s already a lesbian — in a committed relationship.

Valerie March (Geneviere Anderson) is a reporter who gets herself arrested in order to investigate a prostitution ring run by the warden at a women’s prison. As a Salon.com notes, “much of the film’s suspense is generated by Valerie’s efforts to avoid compromising her sexual orientation as the drooling hicks of the Sugar State Women Prison attempt to force themselves on her.”

Make no mistake, this is a Grindhouse-style sexploitation movie, where the inmates are topless most of the time — and tank tops are standard prison issue. It’s brutal, sexually gratuitous and silly. And yes, the warden is an evil lesbian who uses her power to force Val into sexual compliance. But you know, some lesbians actually are evil; we’ve all dated at least one.

Here’s the only trailer we can show you — nothing obscene, but I would still rate it NSFW.

The cast features some of B-movies’ best-known names: Kitten Natividad, Jack Hill, Jacqueline Scott and recently departed Tura Satana. And The’la “Rain” Brown brings the best of blaxploitation as tough, potty-mouthed prostitute Loretta Sims, who calls to mind a gritty version of Pam Grier. Loretta and Val get chained together for work detail and, after a wet tank top fight, become the best of friends.

Is Sugar Boxx an important movie? Probably not. If you don’t like exploitation movies or camp, don’t put it on your Netflix list because you saw it on AfterEllen.com. This isn’t a lesbian movie. Sugar Boxx fits squarely in the women-in-prison category, without question. But what this movie shows — that we’ve never seen before — is that actual lesbians in prison face a different set of problems than LURDs (Lesbian Until Release Date).

Granted, most people won’t notice or won’t get it. (One reviewer said that he doubted Val would mind giving the warden a “box lunch” since she was a lesbian already. Blerg.) But a main character with realistically depicted lesbian orientation, even in a genre focused on T&A, seems to me to be a step forward.

Do you agree? Is Val’s sexual orientation in Sugar Boxx a positive sign for lesbian visibility? Or am I grasping at straws here? I’d love to know what you think.

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