The Year in Queer 2006: Movies

on

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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