Feminism Within the New Queer Cinema
Femmes fatales vs. cross-dressers, hypersexual lesbians vs. transgender bodies
Moving from the unidentified and the unfamiliar, queer-themed independent filmmaking, developed during the early 1990s, acknowledges an unchained and ever-growing change in the way womanhood and the LGBTQI community has been represented.
After the baby boom years, which fueled the feminists’ dissatisfaction with the stereotypical representation of American women in TV series (i.e. Leave it to Beaver, 1957-1963), films (The Thrill of It All, 1963), and magazine articles (“Don’t Be Afraid to Marry Young” or “Cooking to Me Is Poetry”), the New Queer Cinema had to face two main visual obstacles.
Firstly was the mainstream Hollywood depiction of manufactured women or dangerous, self-destructive femmes fatales (i.e. Rita Hayworth in Gilda, 1946) and the illusion of heterosexuality, which pushed back gay and lesbian roles into melodramatic stories with tragic endings (i.e. Philadelphia, 1993).
Secondly, the humor around alternative sexualities or gender play, such as cross-dressing in amusing comedies, such as Somenone Like It Hot (Wilder 1959) and Tootsie (Pollack 1982)
Putting it in a literary way: to pity or to ridicule – these were the boundaries. The contemporary independent and underground filmmaking began to experiment and address the queer audience, without paying lip-service to the straight one, although this was not always achieved, even still to this day.
Indeed, as the feminist writer, director, dancer, and performer Sally Potter said:
“Sometimes it is important to accept not being liked, not pleasing with niceness, with conformity or even with modesty.” (Potter, Response)
Some examples of this come from the lesbian movie Desert Hearts (Deitch, 1985), with its unexpected happy ending, to which the 2015 lesbian movie Carol by Todd Hayne seems to draw from, with it trying to overcome the politicized but restricted exploration of the LGBT community.
However, beyond the restriction mentioned above, there are other features that complicate the depiction of the LGBTI community and the concept of womanhood, which is limited to a feminine façade.
For instance, this is one of the negative outcomes of lesbians’ hypersexualization during the second feminist movement, which promoted lesbianism as a political rejection towards “the enemy” – masculinity and manhood. This specific case brought a schizophrenic reaction within the third feminist movement; where, on one side, there were the hyper-feminine lesbians rejecting trans-men as untrue women and the transgender men as women who had betrayed their own sex and gender, damaging or wasting all the effort of the real women in the feminist movement. And then, on the other, there were all the innovative queer feminist who had shed light on gender and, above all, on gender self-determination.
An example of this conflictual moment in the feminist movement history is given in If These Walls Could Talk 2 (Anderson, Coolidge, Heche 2000), a TV movie that follows three different storylines regarding lesbian couples. Specifically, in the second episode, the young lesbian feminist Linda (Michelle Williams) falls for the butch girl Amy (Chloë Sevigny), but Linda’s lesbian group mocks her and try to keep her far from their friend.
Linda: “So, am I the woman and you are the man?”
Linda: “So, why you dress like one?”
Amy: “Don’t you think I know what people think of me. This is me. It can’t be any other way!”
Linda: “Did you ever been–”
Amy: “What’s bothering you? Can’t we go out to have breakfast ‘cause people will know what you are ‘cause you’re with me?”
Friend: “How can you like someone who dresses up like a man? I saw those women in the bar… We fought so hard to break free of those rules….”
Linda: “She’s not like that. She doesn’t need other people to define who she is. She knows.” (If These Walls Could Talk 2, 2000)
Lastly, what is left now of the new queer cinema is a depiction of sexuality with no limits. However, going from the gay and lesbian tragic stories of the past to the highly sexual relationship centered fictions of today (i.e. Orange is The New Black, 2013), we are critically reaching the point when a mindless revolution against the revolution brings dissatisfaction, apathy, and even boredom.
After mocking, ridiculing, pitying, and now glorifying LGBTI community in a Stone Wall revival mood style, what will be new in cinema, and especially in the new queer cinema?