A movie came out that lead me to think about the complexity of gender identity and the reasons people choose to dress, act and present themselves a certain way. So today I wanted to explore some of these titles and the different things they say.
The movie that started me thinking about this is Albert Nobbs starring Glenn Close: a standout movie about a woman putting herself in the place of a man where many movies as a means to an end. Becoming a male, is a way to a new life.
Nobbs is a woman in 19th century Ireland who after a horrific event in her young years, decides that she’d be able to move in the world better if she acted and dressed as a man.Of course nothing is that easy, and trying to create a life as a man twists and alters the way Albert can see the world and the options she has reach his ultimate goal. There isn’t much to say without totally ruining the movie except it’s beautiful, sweet, touching and a little sad.
To carry on the dramatic theme there are titles like Boys Don’t Cry, where a woman feels deep down that she, should be a he and does everything in his power to make the body match the mind. It’s a tragic story based on the real story of Brandon Teena (The Brandon Teena Story), a male to female transsexual who was brutally murdered for being who he was.
Now, not all movies about the subject of being free to be who you are, are tales of sorrow. There are a number of comedies that deal with this idea and one of the most well known is The Birdcage the movie adaptation of the French play La Cage aux Folles (Which was turned into a Broadway musical in 1983). Starring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams as the delightful, very openly gay, couple who are the fathers of the handsome young Val, who has just become engaged. Unfortunately the woman he loves is the daughter of an ultra-conservative politician and he wants his flamboyant fathers to tone it down for a visit by his future in-laws. Hilarity follows and of course a change of heart by everyone involved and acceptance is the name of the game.
Another well known comedy is To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! – Julie Newmar starring Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo and Wesley Snipes as three wild drag queens on the road to to the biggest Drag beauty pagent in the country. When their car breaks down in the middle of no-where they’re faced with small town ideas, small town people and the chance and style to change the lives of everyone they meet.
Now, to switch gears to documentaries, one of the most interesting is called Venus Boyz which focuses on a group of women who are exploring what it is like to dress like men and present themselves in that way. It delves into their reasons, their personal lives and their explorations in what some of the most subtle differences between men and women are when you’ve seen it from both sides.
A totally fun title is Pageant which follows a group of men who are trying to win the title of Miss Gay America an underground female impersonator (aka Drag queen) competition. It has interviews with the competitors, families and friends sharing what motivates these men to go against convention and shine as who they are.
And lastly I’ve got a documentary that is all about drag (both men and women) and it’s history in performances. They talk about everything from Norman Bates to Frank-n-Furter in Rocky Horror, Divine in Hairspray and even Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare In Love. Ladies Or Gentlemen is a fun look at the history and the meaning behind some of the best gender-bending roles in modern movies.