When I was a young teenager I remember renting movies like But I'm a Cheerleader! and My Summer of Love from the local video shop. Back then it was the only chance I got to see somebody like me. I could relate to lesbian movies, I learned from them and I could fantasize that one day I too would meet somebody who I could have my very own summer of love with.
That is essentially the great significance that lesbian movies held for us queers when we were just girls. When we got older we realized an even greater significance bound to our representation in movies, and the media at large. It really is important to us and that's why we get so passionate about lesbian movies and wind up hating them.
Thankfully times are changing and we are gaining more representation in mainstream pictures. But that doesn't take away from the certain aspects of lesbian representation in movies that we've resented for a long time.
And before you start trolling me I know that there are exceptions to all of the points I'm about to make. I bloody love lesbian movies. I also think that many of the movies I'll mention here are great in other ways, they have their own merits whether that's in the camera work or the acting amongst other things. So don't hate.
11 Movies that should've been about lesbians weren't about lesbians
It might seem that lesbians are scrambling to see the subtext in movies and TV shows at times. For example, we would love Rizzoli and Isles of the TV series Rizzoli & Isles to just get it on already, so every time they have a cute BFF moment we're like, “Yep, they're gay!” But sometimes it's even more obvious that the characters in a movie or TV show should be gay. The old favourite among lesbian subtext seekers is Fried Green Tomatoes (1991). The two main characters Idgie and Ruth are clearly more than just good friends, there's evidence aplenty, namely the fact that Idgie is as butch as the day is long. Then there's Bend It Like Beckham (2002) a movie about female soccer players with no gay characters, come on! Unfortunately the people who made these movies left enough subtext in for us to dream about what lesbian antics really happened but didn't allow for openly gay characters, probably in order to reach a wider audience.
10 Lesbians in movies have to commit suicide
This goes back to the days of old Hollywood in which it was OK to have a gay character on screen as long as they got what was coming to them. So on more than one occasion a lesbian has committed suicide in a movie to meet this criterion. This is definitely the case for older movies, let's take The Children’s Hour, a movie from 1961 starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. Maclaine's character falls madly in love with Hepburn's character (who wouldn't, she's gorgeous) and because it's sooo shameful she has to commit suicide by the end of the movie. This paradigm continued into the 21st century too. Though the storyline is different in Lost and Delirious (2001), the two girls in the film are forced to break up because of the shame surrounding their homosexual relationship. This leaves Paulie (Piper Perabo) so distraught that she ends up committing suicide. See the pattern of shame and suicide?
9 Lesbians are portrayed as murderers in movies
I'm not necessarily talking about “lesbian movies” per se here but rather the portrayal of lesbians in movies in general. So if a lesbian doesn't die in a movie she's quite often portrayed as an evil murderess. There are countless examples, cult 90's movie Wild Things is a major example. Denise Richards' character is basically an evil temptress who seduces Neve Campbell's character into a lesbian romp to get her to take part in a scam. But Richards ends up murdering Campbell with a dude who is also part of the scam. So really Richards' character in this movie is an underhanded bisexual murderess – lovely! There are more recent examples of sapphically-inclined murderers in movies too such as Breaking the Girls (2013). Overall these kinds of movies are simple portraying lesbians as fifty shades of evil.
8 Lesbians are portrayed as monsters in movies
And if a lesbian doesn't die and isn't a murderer, she's some sort of other evil monster. You see another unfavourable pattern emerging? Time and time again lesbians are portrayed as vampires in particular. An iconic movie in this vain would be The Hunger (1983) starring Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. Having lesbian vampires in a movie is such a stereotypical move that the theme was even satirised back in 2009 with the very silly Lesbian Vampire Killers. It's just another ridiculously negative way in which lesbians are portrayed in cinema.
7 A guy always loses out
Even if the girl we're rooting for doesn't lose out (and commit suicide), there's quite often a guy in the movie that ends up heartbroken. I'm going to offer up a couple of British Rom-Coms as examples here. In Imagine Me & You (2005), Piper Perabo's character has an affair with the wedding photographer and leaves her husband for her. Similarly in I Can't Think Straight (2008), a woman leaves her soon-to-be husband in the dust after having an affair with another woman. It's really not OK that this is a pattern in lesbian movies. There are lots of things wrong with this, it insinuates that lesbians are man-haters and don't give a flying eff about the feelings of a man. It also alludes to the fact that lesbians are manipulative wife-stealers. It's more believable than lesbians being vampires so what kind of image does that put forward to society?
6 American lesbian movies are cheesy
It is possible to make a movie that's a little bit cheesy in a good way of course as you can see in the Bond-style lesbian flick D.E.B.S. (2004). But for the most part American lesbian movies are really cheesy in a bad way. They follow the same cheesy romantic storylines with women falling in love and living happily every after, I suppose it is better than them committing suicide though. It's unfortunate really because obviously these indie lesbian movies don't have the same kind of financial backing as major Hollywood movies and they wind up being simplistic cheesy affairs with the same unoriginal storylines. And I'm sure that many lesbians will agree that if you want to watch a half-decent lesbian film you have to turn to foreign cinema. They're just better at representing the nitty-gritty stuff.
5 The sex is unrealistic
The super long sex scenes in 2013's Blue is the Warmest Colour was a topic of heated debate among women who sleep with women. Many claimed the movie was highly unrealistic, especially because it was supposedly the antagonist's first go at lesbian sex and it was rather adventurous to say the least. Journalists and film critics argued that Blue merely represents a male view of lesbians, a male view of lesbian sex in particular. While other prominent figures came out to declare that they see no problems with the erotic scenes in the movie. At the very least, everyone had something to say about it.
4 But sometimes there isn't enough sex
But is Blue not the kind of movie we wanted? Because previously we would complain that there's not nearly enough lesbian sex in movies. When the movies fall into the category of drama we don't often get to see any saucy business at all. If we do, we tend to see the camera pan across the curvature of a woman while another strokes her back. That's not how lesbians have sex! No wonder people are always asking how it's done. On the surface it seems that very few filmmakers can get it right when it comes to representing lesbian sex on the silver screen. But for me, the clamour that Blue is the Warmest Colour produced from the lesbian community just goes to show really that you can't please everyone.
3 Most of the actors are just 'gay for pay'
We're so pleased that Ellen Page came out and plays a lesbian in the soon-to-be-released Freeheld. She is so brave and a pioneer in the film industry. However, (of course there's a however) something that narks us lady lovers a little is the fact that most of the time you see straight actors playing gay roles, i.e. so-called “gay for pay” actors. It's probably because we swoon over them so much and really hope that they're gay or at least into chicks a little bit. But that's not the case unfortunately. And if we stupidly decided to stop letting actors play gay then we would probably have no lesbian movies to speak of! Not everybody can be an Ellen Page.
2 Lesbians are poorly represented in movies
This is something you hear over and over again, obviously the reasons we've talked about show examples of poor representations of queer women. But girls who like girls often feel under-represented or misrepresented in the media. The reason being they want to see somebody who's just like them. First and foremost, we want to be represented in a positive light of course. But we also want to be represented as the diverse group of butches, femmes, futches, bi-girls (and the rest) that we are. Clearly that's just not possible. So we need to remember when we're watching the movies that this is a representation of a character and not a representation of every queer woman that ever lived.
1 You can't classify lesbian movies as a genre
We probably have to come to realize this point. This is the conclusion. You can't lump all lesbian movies into one category. We have horror movies and thrillers, rom-coms and dramas, comedies and action movies and much more. Judge a “lesbian movie” by how it makes you feel, whether you personally can relate to it or not, whether you find it entertaining. Because we will never find “the ultimate lesbian movie” that represents us all, that satisfies our every desire.