As Lesbian Visibility Week comes to a close, we’re reminded that sapphic representation needs to be way more prevalent in our society. More often than not, our identities are fully mishandled. Relationships between queer women are often depicted as overly sexualized. Other times, queer women are written in service to a heterosexual man’s fantasy, like in the infamous Blue Is The Warmest Color or in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Luckily the landscape is changing, and it has been for some time. So crack open a “Tall Girl” from this lesbian-owned brewery: here are several movies that feature accurate portrayals of sapphic relationships. And as a bonus? They’re all written, created, and/or directed by lesbian, transgender, and non-binary people. As always, make sure to check the website Doesthedogdie.com if you’d like to be mindful of triggers.
The Aggressives (2005)
Lesbian Visibility Week is an important step forward, but conversations about intersectionality within the queer community need to be more prevalent. The 2005 documentary The Aggressives serves to explore the unspoken struggles of queerness and gender identity within the Black community. The title of the film comes from the popular African-American Vernacular term: “AG”, which is used to describe a masculine or “butch” lesbian or non-binary person. The film follows several masculine presenting queer women, non-binary people, trans-men, and their partners over the course of 5 years. The film documents the often untold narratives of queer women of color, and how the added marginalization of those identities has an effect on the LGBTQ community as a whole. The Aggressives gives us a much needed look into the world of the Queer Black/Latinx ball scene, as well as detailing the level of community in popular cruising spots like the Christoper Street Piers. It’s sharp, raw, and just as provocative as it is informative. And it’s got a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
All Over Me (1997)
All Over Me is an internationally award-winning indie film written and directed by sisters Alex and Sylvia Sichel. The film takes place during New York City’s riot grrrl scene, and follows the journey of a teenage musician grappling with her sexual identity. The film is a brutally accurate representation of raw sapphic heartbreak, queer culture in 90s New York, and the complexity of teenage love. All Over Me stars two familiar faces: Leisha Hailey from Showtime’s The L Word, and Alison Folland from the 1999 Brandon Teena biopic Boys Don’t Cry. The gritty shots of Tompkins Square Park pair perfectly with the soundtrack, which is laden with well-known riot grrrl musicians. With songs from Ani DiFranco, Sleater-Kinney, and Babes In Toyland, it’s clear that this film was made for us, by us. That’s not all: the film won the Teddy Award for Best Feature Film in 1997, as well as winning the Grand Jury Prize at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, and the award for Outstanding Film at the GLAAD Media Award in 1998. If you watch any film this week, let it be this one. The film is as hopeful as it is gut-wrenching, so just make sure you have a box of tissues handy.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Jennifer’s Body is a 2009 comedy-horror created by Karyn Katsuma and Juno director (and former Bust cover star!) Diablo Cody. Starring Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried, the film follows the deteriorating friendship between two best friends after a traumatic incident changes them both. Despite (and perhaps because of) its realistic depiction of female adolescence, Jennifer’s Body was eviscerated by audiences upon its initial release. It has since become a bonafide cult classic, with many people (me included) defining the film as their queer awakening. It even had a limited 35mm re-release in 2022 as a part of Roxy Cinema’s “Woman As Witch” series. Jennifer’s Body is a subversive and unexpected sleeper hit with themes of female revenge and a perfectly crafted 00s “emo” soundtrack. It’s spooky, nostalgic, canonically queer-coded, and it’s the perfect film to watch after a long night at your favorite lesbian bar. *see below.*
The Lesbian Bar Project (2022)
How many lesbian bars do you think are left in the United States, 100? 50? Try less than 20. The Lesbian Bar Project is both a documentary and a campaign created by Erica Rose and Elina Street. The Lesbian Bar Project seeks to rectify the lack of sapphic spaces by supporting and unifying those that are left, and features lesbian safe havens like Wildrose in Seattle, Gossip Grill in California, and all three of NYC’s lesbian bars: Cubbyhole, Gingers, and Henrietta Hudsons. One bar, named Herz, was predominantly featured in the documentary and has already since closed down. The film is impactful, and the organization is making a valiant effort to save our spaces; The Lesbian Bar Project has raised over 100,000$ to date, donating all the proceeds to the lesbian bars that are left.
But I’m A Cheerleader! (1999)
You can’t have a lesbian movie list without this 1999 arthouse classic. But, I’m A Cheerleader! is the textbook definition of camp, slow burns, and happy endings. Natasha Lyonne stars as Megan, an average teenage girl who is accused by her friends and family of “being a homosexual,” in what may be the most hilarious intervention scene of film history. (Her mother calls Megan’s posters of Melissa Etheridge “gay iconography.”) Megan has her world turned upside down when she’s then sent to a gender conversion therapy camp run by RuPaul. Seriously. Things seem to be getting worse (or better?) when she meets the brash and elusive Graham, played by gay icon Clea Duvall. The film even received a standing ovation when it premiered at the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in 1999. With monochromatic pastel houses, tongue-in-cheek punchlines, and poignant social commentary, But, I’m A Cheerleader! is quintessential queer girl cinema.
Bound is the directorial debut by LGBTQ+ icons The Wachowskis. The film also stars Jennifer Tilly (who you may know better as Chucky’s Tiffany Valentine), and Showgirls’ Gina Gershon. Bound is a high-intensity crime drama that grossed over 7 million dollars at the box office. The movie follows a passionate Bonnie-and-Bonnie love affair in the midst of a high-intensity mob robbery, and every scene will have your heart racing for one reason or another. Bound has been hailed as one of the first films to center a lesbian relationship, without homosexuality being central to the progression of the plot. A lot of care went into making this film the lesbian cinematic masterpiece it is today; the Wachowskis recruited sex-positive feminist, author, and intimacy coordinator, Susie Bright. And her work paid off. Bound has been hailed as one of the most refreshingly accurate film portrayals of lesbian intimacy. But do our lovebirds make it out alive? You’ll just have to watch and find out!
Top Photo Credit: Screenshot from But I’m A Cheerleader! Directors Cut Trailer, Lionsgate FIlms