Thirty years ago, several American LGTBQ+ associations held demonstrations in front of cinemas to protest the perverse and unrealistic image primal instinct Offer of homosexuality and bisexuality. In vain: Paul Verhoeven’s feature film grossed more than 350 million dollars, mainly because of the fast-paced scenes by Sharon Stone. Decades later, the debate is still raging as to whether this is one of the most misogynistic films of all time or, on the contrary, a great parody of male misogyny. But if you look at it again, it’s undeniable that all of the female characters are not just alleged killers, but alleged lesbian or bisexual serial killers.
Since the 1980s – and particularly the 1990s with the rise of neo-noir – Hollywood has associated female homosexuality with violence in general and murder in particular. Why? See some possible answers in absence and excess. lesbian and bisexual killers in hollywood movies, an essay by Francina Ribes Pericàs from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Ribes Pericàs, also a member of the band Doble Pletina, analyzes the origins of this cliché that has replaced the femme fatale of classic film noir and the vampires of fantasy.
“It all came from an intuition I had about 10 years ago,” she says. “As a movie buff, I’ve noticed that the subject of murder keeps coming up in one way or another. There are those who murder because they are villains and therefore can be demonized before the credits, which is what happens in Single white womanand others in the case of Heavenly Creatures, killing as a radical form of self-defense to rebel against the environment that oppresses them. Apart from being made invisible in mainstream cinema, lesbian culture is portrayed in the few representations it has from a heteropatriarchal perspective and is repeatedly associated with violence. Even now.”
early 20th century, before the rise of National Socialism, girl in uniform – the first feature film with a lesbian plot – was released in Germany, but Hollywood still severely condemned women who threatened men. There is the archetype of the vampire, embodied by actress Theda Bara, a symbol of female rebellion that irritated the conservative classes, especially men. No wonder Bara gave the publication an interview Magazine Theater In 1917 she said: “Women are my greatest admirers because they see in my vampire vengeance for untold crimes… I may have the face of a vampire, but the heart of a feminist.”
From 1929 to 1934, actresses such as Norma Shearer, Mae West, and Marlene Dietrich portrayed strong, sexual, and confident characters in films that clearly referenced homosexuality. Already in 1933, Queen Christinea film starring Greta Garbo, dealt with bisexuality in a very natural way.
However, this glimpse of open-mindedness was interrupted in 1934 when the Film Production Code, better known as the Hays Code, came into effect. Its implementation led to the ban on explicit references to homosexuality by 1967; Women were relegated to subservient roles and characters with unorthodox behavior were portrayed in a negative light. The setback was obvious.
Only in the 1940s and 1950s, with the advent of film noir, did theaters once again find intelligent and powerful protagonists who were symbolically linked to violence and sex: the femme fatales. Her characterization was ambiguous. However, as Ribes Pericàs explains, “Given the Hays Code, the art of coding was key to this film genre. Femme fatales are not characterized by lesbianism, but they posed a threat to the hero since their victims were men. Unlike the years before the censorship, there was no chance of a happy ending. Although what’s interesting is that despite the negative connotations attached to their characters, they had the ability to seduce men and women alike.”
After the Hays Code was abandoned in 1967, the change was immediate. But not for the better. “It was necessary to make everything clearer and more provocative,” says Ribes Pericàs. “Sexploitation emerged, with subgenres like women in prison — groups of incarcerated women subjected to all kinds of abuse — and erotic horror films about lesbian vampires that were heavily influenced by porn. In short, the sexual fantasies of straight men have been given a voyeuristic twist.”
The same thing happened with neo-noir in the 1990s. The femme fatales of primal instinct or wild things are significantly more evil and sexual than those of classic film noir. But for the first time, they got away with it and weren’t doomed to an inevitable disastrous outcome. After being filmed in scenes of gratuitous nudity, of course, and just the right amount of bloodshed: two elements that work wonders at the box office.
But there are exceptions. The best example is Bound, the Wachowski sisters’ 1996 neo-noir film: “It exudes a sensibility that goes far beyond what is usual in the mainstream,” says Ribes Pericàs. “The Wachowskis, who were not yet transgender women at the time of filming, asked writer Susie Bright to advise them on several scenes. In terms of how it portrays lesbian love and sex, how the characters are built and its happy ending, it’s probably the best of all the films analyzed in this book.”
“Subjectivity is essential,” adds Ribes Pericàs. “In recent years, outstanding films have been made outside of Hollywood, such as Carol or Portrait of a lady on fire, both of which deal with female homosexuality. But it’s still not enough. Without more women, lesbians and bisexuals behind the cameras, it becomes difficult to get the portrayal right. There’s still a long way to go.”