Friday, June 05, 2009

Know your lgbt history - Foxy Brown and Cleopatra Jones

Everything still seems to be on deck for tomorrow regarding my column in The State newspaper.

But that's tomorrow. Let's get through today.

The blaxploitation period of American cinema was an interesting time. It was when filmmakers suddenly figured out that black folks liked movies, could write and direct films, and that black women could carry motion pictures.

The films from this period encompassed good(Blacula, the Cleopatra Jones series), bad (The Mack, Soul Vengeance), and so damned awful that you had to watch them for their campy quality (Dolemite, Truck Turner).

Still there were drawbacks. The films, for the most part, were violent and coarse. They took the stereotypes of the superstud black man and the extremely racist white man and blew them up to outrageous proportions.

And how these motion pictures portrayed lgbts were just awful. Gay men of all stripes were seen as weak.

And lesbians were portrayed as threatening. White lesbians in particular were seen as either subservient to black women or as criminals.

These two clips demonstrate my point.

The first is from Foxy Brown, a motion picture starring Pam Grier. Grier plays a woman seeking to free her neighborhood from a drug and prostitution cartel. In this scene, she is involved in a lesbian barroom brawl:

This second clip is from a more sophisticated movie, Cleopatra Jones. Tamara Dobson portrays Jones, an international super spy who is battling a lesbian drug lord named Mommy. That's right, her name is Mommy.

But it gets better. Mommy is portrayed by two-time Oscar winning actress Shelley Winters. And this performance didn't exactly hurt her career. She would later get another Oscar nomination for the Poseidon Adventure.

I'm ashamed to admit that despite how insulting it was, I enjoyed Winters's performance. It's obvious that she did not take this movie seriously. Winters doesn't just chew scenery, she grinds it into powder.

Her performance, in fact, softens the insult of the evil lesbian stereotype just a little.

In this clip, Winters explodes on the scene at 2:00 but watch the entire thing. It's entertaining as hell:

Bookmark and Share


MFL said...

Agree with you. Thankfully things have moved beyond that

I remember movies like the killing of sister George and the childrens hour that portrayed lesbian s as just inhuman

An interesting site with more wholesome more honest depiction of lesbians in movies is Movies for lesbians

BlackTsunami said...

I'm going to be spotlighting the Killing of Sister George at a later time. The backstory of the sex scene between Susannah York and Coral Browne was interesting to say the least.

Bill S said...

I've never seen "The Killing of Sister George", but I have seen "The Children's Hour". I wouldn't say Shirley MacLaine's character is inhuman-she's depicted as someone to be pitied. MacLaine said years later that they "didn't do the picture right",and also admitted there was no real discussion on the set of what the film was about.
I think the first kind-of sympathetic portrait of a lesbian in an American film was the Estelle Parsons character in "Rachel, Rachel". I say "kind-of" because even though she's portrayed as lonely, she isn't punished in the movie for it, the way MacLaine's character, and the Sandy Dennis character in "The Fox" are.
British films of the day seemed more progressive. Claire Bloom's character in "The Haunting" comes to mind.

BlackTsunami said...

MacLaine was right. The scene where she freaks out still brings uncomfortable shivers down my spine.

Sister George was an interesting movie. I don't know if it was totally negative except for pushing the idea that an lgbt movie couldn't have a happy ending.