Movies, Pop Culture

Why are blockbuster films pretending that lesbians and bisexuals don’t exist?

The film industry portrays itself as LGBT-friendly, but big-budget movies are still relegating lesbian and bisexual women's stories to the shadows.

Ocean’s 8, the all-female addition to the heist movie franchise, came out this summer to great fanfare. While it provided plenty of quippy one-liners, entertaining hijinks, and many shots of Anne Hathaway in couture (thank you for that), there’s one thing that was decidedly absent: lesbians.

Even since the all-female reboot was announced, lesbian and bi+ female fans have been wondering if there would be any romantic interaction between characters. Many were hopeful that the film would take advantage of the all-woman ensemble to show that women can be partners in more than just crime. However, all the gals in this film remained simply pals. The lack of lesbian romance was disappointing, especially because of how much wasted potential there was. Ocean and Blanchett’s character Lou have undeniable chemistry, and it took little imagination to read their relationship as that of former lovers.

When was the last time a movie studio removed a heterosexual romantic subplot? Click To Tweet

As E. Alex Jung wrote in the Vulture article titled ‘Ocean’s 8 is a lesbian movie‘, “while Ocean’s 8 is technically a heist movie, it is actually a movie about how men are boring and peripheral and women are fun and should have sex with each other.” Making this subtext text would only have made the movie stronger, and would have added another layer to a movie that, while entertaining and enjoyable, lacked any real weight.

The most disappointing part of Ocean’s 8 unacknowledged lesbian undertones is that this is hardly as isolated incident: a string of big-budget movies over the past several years have either written out lesbian storylines and themes or only addressed character’s queerness off-screen. Ghostbusters, the other all-female reboot to grace our screens in recent years, had fans falling in love with out lesbian Kate McKinnon’s character Jillian Holtzmann.

While director Paul Feig essentially confirmed off-screen that Holtzmann was a lesbian, there was no overt indication of this in the movie, apparently due to studio restrictions. While it was certainly easy to view Holtzmann as a lesbian throughout the film regardless, it would have been nice if the producers had seen fit to acknowledge Hotlzmann’s queerness on the big screen instead of just privately to fans.

In 2016, Wonder Woman comic book writer Greg Rucka confirmed that he interpreted. Wonder Woman as bisexual. That gave fans great hope that Diana would be portrayed that way in the 2017 Wonder Woman blockbuster starring Gal Gadot. But despite having spent her whole life on an island populated entirely by women, the producers chose for the vast majority of Diana’s interactions in the movie, and her only romantic relationship, to be with men. Fans are currently petitioning Warner Brothers to explicitly confirm Wonder Woman as bisexual in the upcoming sequel, but since they saw no need to do so in the first movie, it’s unlikely they’ll decide to now.

Movie producers should either visibly include lesbian characters and themes in their films or not at all. The trend of hinting at lesbian representation but only explicitly acknowledging it afterwards is insulting. Click To Tweet

A similar situation occurred with Tessa Thompson’s character in the 2017 Marvel movie Thor: Ragnarok. Thompson played Valkyrie in the film, a hard-drinking battle-scarred Asgardian warrior. Thompson said in an interview that she viewed Valkyrie as bisexual, and even convinced director Taika Watiti to film a scene of a woman walking out of Valkyrie’s bedroom. However, the scene ultimately got cut. Despite having 19 films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet to have any LGBT characters in their movies. A bisexual superhero would have been enthusiastically welcomed by the franchise’s large LGBTQ+ fanbase, and it’s regrettable that such a small reference had to get cut.

I could go on for ages. Actress Daniella Pineda confirmed that her character in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, paleoveterinarian Zia Rodriguez, was supposed to be a lesbian but the reference to her sexuality was removed for the sake of time. Is one line of dialogue really such a time-consumer? Scenes get cut from movies all the time, but when references to queer characters are regularly removed it starts to look like more than just a coincidence. Lesbian and bisexual women deserve to see themselves explicitly acknowledged on the screen as much as everybody else. When was the last time a movie studio removed a heterosexual romantic subplot?

Movie producers should either visibly include lesbian characters and themes in their films or not at all. The trend of hinting at lesbian representation but only explicitly acknowledging it in press tours is insulting. It allows producers to have their cake and eat it too: they can drum up interest in their film among queer fans, who are so starved for representation that we’ll take even implied gayness, but avoid the controversy and risk of losing revenue from more conservative moviegoers that including an explicitly LGBTQ+ character would create.

Lesbian relationships and characters are not any more inappropriate or risqué than that of any other sexuality, and lesbian and bisexual+ women deserve to see themselves represented authentically on the screen.