The Year in Queer 2006: Movies

 
 

V for VendettaAnd Now
for Something Completely Different

Two of the most
buzz-worthy films of 2006 were Loving Annabelle and V for Vendetta.
Although upon first glance the films are vastly different — Annabelle
was an independent feature directed by out lesbian Katherine
Brooks
and based loosely on the 1931 German lesbian film Mädchen
in Uniform
, while Vendetta was a big-budget studio feature
based on a graphic novel and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski — an important
thread connected them.

Both films defied
convention with their overtly controversial subject matter, and did so at a
time when the political climate has taken a decidedly conservative turn. As
LGBT rights are being rolled back and gay marriage legislation is being defeated
in many states, Loving Annabelle invited conservative scorn by depicting
a sexual relationship between a high school student and her female teacher,
while V for Vendetta depicted a totalitarian government closely resembling
the Bush administration and the violent rebellion against it inspired by the
execution of a lesbian couple and a gay man.

Loving Annabelle
was a festival favorite in 2006, partially due to its impressive cinematography
and strong performances by leads Diane Gaidry and Erin Kelly. But arguably the
most memorable facet of the film was the bold representation of the consensual
sexual relationship between an adult woman (Gaidry) and her teenage student
(Kelly).

While so many current
mainstream and independent representations of lesbian sex and sexuality played
it safe, Annabelle was a veritable barn-burner of passion and consequences.
When the couple finally consummated their forbidden relationship, there were
no coy, cutaway shots or swelling orchestrations to tidy up the scene. Add to
this the morality angle — how would viewers feel about finding themselves rooting
for a torrid relationship between an adult and a minor — and in Loving Annabelle,
audiences had a filmgoing experience that was as exciting and complicated
as any ill-advised love affair.

V for Vendetta
may not have had the sexual pyrotechnics boasted by Loving Annabelle,
but the righteous rage and palpable disgust its characters felt toward the oppressive
regime that had dehumanized the population were every bit as compelling.

Vendetta
brought both passion and purpose back to the action film genre (something that
X-Men: The Last Stand — with its thinly veiled “mutant as queer person”
subtext — almost did this summer). Natalie Portman starred as a young
woman politicized and inspired to take violent revolutionary action by ready
the story of the torture and murder of a lesbian and her lover, and by watching
a gay male friend beaten and taken away to his doom.

In conventional
action films, violence against incidental lesbian and gay characters rarely
incite heterosexual characters to take heroic action. In fact, in the history
of mainstream cinema, homophobic violence is often a rite of passage for a lead
heterosexual character, establishing (usually) his status as “normal” and powerful.

Similarly, when
queer stories or queer characters make the transition from literature to film,
they are often “straightened up,” vanquished to the sidelines, or removed from
the story altogether. In the graphic novel upon which Vendetta was
based, the story about the lesbian couple was important, but not essential,
and the gay male friend (played by Stephen Fry) was originally written as a
straight man. In the hands of filmmakers Andy and Larry Wachowski, queer characters
took center stage and provided the raison d’être not just for the revolution,
but for the film itself.

Better
Luck Tomorrow

Perhaps the most
obvious cinematic trend in 2006 was the ever decreasing number of representations
of lesbians and bisexual women in both mainstream and independent film–as was
also the case in 2006 with scripted and unscripted television. The dwindling
number of queer female characters in mainstream and independent film not only
means that the diversity of our community is less likely to be represented,
it also means that the few films that do include us are inevitably held to the
impossible standard of speaking to and for all of us.

The good news is
that a new generation of queer and queer-friendly filmmakers are working to
bring our stories to the forefront. One of those filmmakers is Angela
Robinson
(D.E.B.S,
Herbie Fully Loaded, The
L Word
), whose recent AfterEllen.com column, "Fringe
Theory: Why We Don’t Need the Man
" offered an inspiring vision of the
future of queer film.

In her article,
Robinson details her attendance of a queer conference as a panelist and the
subsequent debate around the topic, "Where’s Our Dykeback Mountain?"
and the larger question of "Where is the lesbian movie that will cross
over?"

Robinson suggests
that this is the "wrong damn question," and instead asserts that,
"We don’t need to cross over." Citing the digital filmmaking revolution
and the ability to distribute films over the internet and via the international
queer film festival network, Robinson firmly believes that "we have power
now" to create meaningful representations of our own lives.

Robinson writes,
"The gatekeepers are dying, slowly but surely, and now is the time for
the artist to talk directly to the audience, without the middleman. And everybody
can be an artist, not just the people on the panel, but each and every one of
the people in the audience."

If her theory is
correct, the number of mainstream films with queer characters and the dollars
they generate may not be the defining factors in the "Year in Queer Film"
assessments of the future. Instead, progress may begin to be measured by the
growing number of queer women who take the telling of their stories into their
own hands, and their ability to find new and unexpected ways in which to share
those stories with the world at large.

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