lesbian cinema

AUGUST 11: But I’m A Cheerleader is released (2000)

On this day in 2000, the movie But I’m A Cheerleader was first released in the United States. Now a cult classic, the movie tells the story of a young lesbian named Megan who is sent off to a gay rehabilitation camp – or “homosexuals anonymous” as her mother puts it. Despite the seemingly heavy subject material, But I’m A Cheerleader pokes fun at the concept of “praying the gay away” and is more therapeutic than any ex-gay camp could ever hope to be. 

The first film from director Jamie Babbit, But I’m A Cheerleader is most remembered for its genuine humor, John Waters camp-style sets, and the unforgettable chemistry between its two leads – Clea Duvall and faux-lesbian icon Natasha Lyonne. Played by Lyonne, the movie starts off by following Megan through her daily routine of gazing longingly at the cut-out photos of models in her locker, cringing through makeout sessions with her boyfriend, and, of course, attending cheerleading practice. The movie’s titular line is spoken when Megan is bombarded one day by her friends and family in a pseudo-intervention/reverse coming out; to the accusation that she’s a lesbian, she can only respond “…but I’m a cheerleader!” However, despite the obvious oxymoron of a lesbian cheerleader, Megan’s parents insist that she drop everything and pack her bags for the ex-gay camp called True Directions.

Originally posted by mrchandlerbings

At True Directions, the boys fix cars, play football, and chop firewood while the girls swaddle baby dolls, wear skirts, and vacuum monochrome carpets in hopes to become True Men™ and True Women™ . Amongst all the madness, Megan finally realizes that not only is she in fact a lesbian, but that she also kind of has a thing for Graham, the only other girl at camp who is unconvinced by the ridiculousness of these activities. With the stage set and the characters positioned exactly how you want them to be, the story plays out in a perfectly fluffy, romcom rhythm. The two girls fall in love by sneaking out late at night to nearby gay bars and rolling their eyes at various True Directions tasks, only to ditch the camp’s “graduation ceremony” and officially run off into the sunset together at the movie’s climax. It’s not in spite of, but rather, because of this expected story line that LGBT folk have kept this movie on repeat well into the 21st century; rarely are lesbians given the type of aesthetically pleasing, teeny-bopper story that But I’m a Cheerleader has to offer, and much less one that continues to make you laugh with each and every re-watch.


JUNE 27: Before Stonewall is released (1985)

On this day in 1985, the documentary Before Stonewall was released. A companion of the book of the same name, Before Stonewall chronicles LGBT life and culture in the United States before the Stonewall Riots and the following explosion of the LGBT Rights Movement.

The original cover art  was replaced with an updated design for the 25th anniversary edition of the film (x). 

Quite literally, before Stonewall, there was the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, Julius’s Sip-In, and so many more demonstrations and quiet acts of rebellion that set the stage for the civil rights movements of the 1970s and onward. Directed by John Scagliotti, Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg, the documentary’s purpose is to shed light on the lesser-known events in LGBT history while also just simply showing how gay, bi, and trans people lived their lives in the pre-Stonewall ages. Written by Andrea Weiss and Greta Schiller, the book Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community was published in 1988 as a companion to the film. Both works combine archived film footage and illustrations of an underground gay culture with interviews of the people who actually lived in and helped create that culture. Some of those interviewed are lesbian icons Audre Lorde, Anne Bannon, Barbara Gittings, and Lisa Ben. 

The lesbian activists and artists interviewed in the documentary include Audre Lorde, Lisa Anne Bannon, Barbara Gittings, and Lisa Ben (x). 

In their interviews, the women also uncover a distinct lesbian culture and history from the pre-Stonewall days that is even more rarely-talked about than the pre-Stonewall gay culture. From the famous drag king of the 1920s, Gladys Bentley, to Mabel Hampton and her lesbian activist work during the Harlem Renaissance; to the lesbian bar The Black Cat that originally opened in 1906, and The Beebo Brinker Chronicles and other lesbian pulp fiction novels, Before Stonewall acts as a time capsule for the LGBT kids of today to not only learn about their history from the early 20th century, but to also see how we were talking about that history before the AIDS crisis of the 1980s took its toll.

Before Stonewall went on to make waves at several film festivals and even won two Emmy Awards in 1987 for Best Historical/Cultural Program and Best Research. In 1999, a sequel titled After Stonewall was released that covers the thirty years of LGBT life and culture since the Stonewall Riots.


Lesbian Movies

High art
Better than chocolate
Blue is the warmest color
Kissing Jessica Stein
I can’t think straight
Kiss me
Chasing Amy
Show me love
And then Lola Came
The kids are alright
Lost and delirious
Imagine me and you
Boys don’t cry
Heavenly Creatures
The Four Faced Liar
Loving Annabelle
The Duke of Burgundy
Mississippi Damned
Tru Love
The Hours
My normal
Breaking the Girls
Mosquita Y Mari
Room in Rome
Show me love
Desert Hearts
Edie and Thea
Molly’s Girl
Itty bitty titty commitee
I’ve heard the mermaids singing
Jack and Diane
The killing of sister George
Soldiers Girl
A love to keep
Tipping the Velvet
Go fish
Clouds of sils Maria
All about E
Heterosexual Jill
Womans Lake
The truth about Jane

We’re spotlighting Tribeca selections centered around LGBT subjects every day of LGBT Pride Month. Throughout the month of March, you’ll be seeing films and series by everyone from William Friedkin and Whoopi Goldberg to Jody Lee Lipes and Ira Sachs. Follow along and seek these treasures out!

Today’s selection is writer-director Deb Shoval’s AWOL, a deeply moving gem that chronicles the unlikely bond between a yearning army recruit and a married, small-town mother that leads to romance, enacted through two lovely, luminous performances from Lola Kirke and Breeda Wool. This eye-opening lesbian drama, set amid the background of a depressed Pennsylvania coal town, is another worthy example of how queer narratives are finally appearing with much more rapidity on our film screens.