If These Walls Could Talk 2

The original If These Walls Could Talk is an HBO film divided into three parts, each with its own cast and time period. The parts are linked by content; each takes place in the same house and each protagonist has an experience with abortion. 2003’s If These Walls Could Talk 2 adopts the same structure but focuses on lesbian couples. The movie sets up each vignette with a year (1961, 1972, and 2000) and a new cast.

For a YouTube link for the full film, click the movie poster:

The 1961 plot features an elderly cohabitating couple, Abby and Edith. They venture out on a date to the theater and are engrossed in The Children’s Hour, but afterwards pretend that it was not in their taste. Upon returning home, Abby checks her birdhouse in the backyard and falls off a ladder. Edith stays in the hospital all night, though she is not allowed to see Abby. A fellow woman in the lobby attempts to comfort her by saying,

“[Never having a husband] is lucky… ’cause you won’t have the heartbreak of losing one.”

Abby passes away, and no one bothers to tell Edith, insisting that any information be given only to family members. Edith phones Abby’s only relative, a nephew, who brings his wife and daughter to the funeral and into the home. In preparation for their visit, Edith removes all photographs of her and Abby and makes it look as though they lived in separate bedrooms. The house is in Abby’s name, so the nephew and his family decide to take the belongings and sell the home, effectively kicking Edith out onto the street.

During all of this, Edith suffers but must maintain composure; to the outside world, Abby was just her “friend.” In one scene, Edith breaks down, crying loudly and clutching Abby’s pajamas in clear agony. She explains to Abby’s nephew and his wife who Abby was, and she remembers more about the one time the nephew came to visit than he did. She explains to the daughter that Abby was a caring, tender person. The anguish and adoration of this “friendship” is reminiscent of Fitz-Greene Halleck’s “On The Death of Joseph Rodman Drake.” When the last shot in this vignette pans out from the site of the ladder accident and into the now empty house that used to be a home, the audience does not know what happens to Edith. Despite another hour in the film, the audience never knows. She disappears, consumed by grief and stripped by a traditional legal system and heteronormative culture of anything she may have been able to cling to for comfort. This poignant message continues to relate to Halleck, whose work dwindled and ceased not long after the death of Drake.

The 1972 plot features the same house, this time occupied by several lesbian college students. They are going through a crisis because despite their devotion to the feminism movement, the student activist group they co-founded at their college is kicking them out. Why? Because the group “support equal rights for men and women,” so naturally, “there’s no room for you [lesbians].” The housemates proceed to get high and go to a lesbian bar, where they make fun of the butch lesbians. One girl from the house, Linda, is attracted to a woman at the bar named Amy.

The housemates reject Amy completely, saying she’s “worse than a man” and complaining that they “won’t be accepted as feminists with [Linda’s] little boyfriend around.” Linda retorts, “Wanna know why you don’t like Amy? It’s because you’re scared of anybody who’s not just like you.” The vignette ends on a note of self-acceptance for both Amy and Linda.

The overall feel of this vignette is very different from the first in that it portrays activism and angst rather than an internalized struggle. Second-wave feminism has taken root and is a loud and proud voice, despite some excluding drawbacks, which the movie points out clearly. The film has a different director for each vignette, which allows the audience to experience the different time periods in addition to merely viewing them. This part of the film brought a voice to the previously silent lesbian.

The 2000 plot features residents Fran (Sharon Stone) and Kal (Ellen DeGeneres), who are a lesbian couple trying to conceive a child through sperm donors. Kal regrets deeply that she cannot impregnate Fran herself, but they are sure that it will be a child resulting from their love. Ordering sperm online to be delivered is an option, but Kal declares, “I’m gonna pick it up. It’s the least I can do.” The agency the couple uses assures their sperm is “the cream of the crop,” and after months of trying, Fran gets pregnant.

The introduction of comedian Ellen into the film helps give a positive message to the film. In one scene, the couple retreats to the park and watches the children play. A mother notices them and asks if they have kids here. Upon hearing that they do not have children, she recommends that they give it a try. They find out Fran is pregnant in the next scene, which allows this part of the film to show acceptance and ability to the previously disenfranchised lesbians.

Overall, each vignette gets more progressive, and the house has all of their stories. It is an archive in and of itself of, representing multiple eras in United States culture. In each part, the house contains strife when visitors come. In 1961, when the nephew shows up, Edith has to pretend she never shared a room with Abby. In 1972, Amy is invited into the home but is pushed out and made fun of for the way she dresses. In 2000, a gay male couple who offer to donate sperm stop by. Fran and Kal insist that they want the donor to have no involvement in the child’s life, but the offering couple does not agree. The house therefore seems to accept its lesbian occupants and provides for them a place to be themselves; however, it rejects interlopers. It does not have enough power in 1961, and its own resident is uprooted. In 1972, it is split, and Linda and Amy wind up at Amy’s house instead. In 2000, though, Fran and Kal reject the gay males within minutes and get their happy ending in the house. Throughout the house’s journey, the viewer gets to experience snapshots of lesbian liberation in the United States.

Sex by Madonna

Madonna is undeniably an icon. Despite starting her career in the 1980s, she is still a prominent public figure. Her vast media presence even to this day includes such websites as Wikipedia, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, IMDb, and even madonna.com. Her 2003 VMA performance with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, 1984 song “Like A Virgin,” and “Vogue” dance style are just a few of Madonna’s lasting cultural impressions. Madonna is more than just the “Queen of Pop”; she is an idol to the queer community. She has used her years as an actress, singer, songwriter, producer, dancer, businesswoman, and author as a platform for her to advocate for the gay community.

Coming in at #3 in advocate.com‘s “10 Times Madonna Put the ‘Homo’ In Homoerotic” is SexThis 1992 coffee-table book caused an uproar, prompting her then-boyfriend Vanilla Ice to break up with her, despite appearing in the book himself. Additional celebrities featured include Naomi Campbell, Joey Stefano, and Isabella Rossellini. Photographed by Steven Meisel Studios and published by Warner Books, Sex is a spiral-bound book with a metal cover, released to stores with a Mylar cover to prevent non-buyers’ prying eyes. Despite the bans and bad press, the book sold 150,000 copies its first day and eventually cracked the New York Times bestseller list.

Sex is an uncensored work following the character’s exploits via images and anecdotes. (For a detailed look at many of the pages in Sex, click the image above.)

madonnasex5_20081216_1792207242The first page advocates for safe sex, stating, “If I were to make my dreams real, I would certainly use condoms. Safe sex saves lives. Pass it on.” Specifically citing AIDS as the impetus behind this, Madonna brings a queer issue to the forefront. This is a responsible message whose LGBT+ positive tone persists throughout the book. In addition to heterosexual sex acts, the book contains depictions of many controversial sexualities (including but not limited to: BDSM, male homosexuality, female homosexuality, bestiality, sex with a minor, sex in public, group sex, childhood sexuality, interracial sex, and masturbation). Chapter 9 of Gayle Rubin’s From Gender to Sexuality explores the history behind the aversion to these expressions of sexuality, and it calls into question the established norms of sexuality via the “charmed circle.” Madonna’s Sex completely ignores Victorian tradition and provides the entire sexual community with soft-core porn for thought.

The images are powerful not only by their content but also by their reality. Madonna and/or her character in the book, Dita, writes,

“Everyone has their sexuality. It’s how you treat people in everyday life that counts, not what turns you on in your fantasy… A movie like In the Realm of the Senses turns me on because it’s real… I wouldn’t want to watch anyone get hurt, male or female. But generally I don’t think pornography degrades women.”

The use of “their” as a singular/gender-neutral pronoun may be alluding to acceptance of the trans community, although admittedly it may just be loose grammar. The idea that fantasy should not define you and that your attitudes toward people should is important to queer culture. The real emotions and feelings behind Madonna/Dita’s fantasies are crucial to book’s message; this is not fake. Interior: Leather Bar publicizes gay male sexuality by showing a real gay couple acting out a staged sex scene. Although staged, the intimacy is real, which norms the otherwise “deviant” activity of homosexuality. By incorporating true longing, intimacy, and fantasy into Sex, Madonna norms many controversial sexualities.


The Legend of Korra

The Avatar series currently consists of two animated TV shows: Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Each series features “benders,” who have special powers tied to an element, such as fire or air. The protagonists of the shows are Avatars, who can master bending all four core elements. They have supportive friends and go on adventures, battling enemies and often saving the world; however, this standard format for children’s animated action shows ultimately proves to be groundbreaking with its gender bending. Avatar: The Last Airbender aired from 2005 to 2008, and won 11 awards along with critical and consumer acclaim. The high quality animation and humor carried on to its sequel, The Legend of Korra, which won 15 shows and garnered similar critical acclaim.

Both shows aired on Nickelodeon, a children’s network with a target audience of children ages 6-11. The exceptions were the last two seasons of The Legend of Korra, which were released via streaming at Nick.com. Television viewing had declined to 1.5 million viewers from the average 3 million per episode, but with a large portion of viewers being outside the target audience for Nickelodeon, the show was more popular online.

Seasons one and two begin with very typical children’s humor, blatantly reinforcing some gender stereotypes:

Ending a relationship is like pulling off a blood sucking leech.”
-Mako (a man)

“Nothing [can save our relationship], that is, except marriage. We will wed at sunset. You may express your joy through tears.”
-Eska (a woman), while horror music plays

The show gets subtly more progressive. It makes light of anime style and how it can portray males and females as exact equals aside from adornment, which is necessary for distinction between them:

By portraying a set of mixed-gender twins by the same art but with eye shadow and hair ties on the girl, it introduces uncertain gender roles. Although this could be construed as perpetuating the idea that women must beautify themselves artificially, Aubrey Plaza’s deadpan humor as the female in the pair almost creates a parody by proving the twins to be far more similar to each other than to their prescribed gender roles. Season two continues the seemingly heterosexual nature of the show by revamping the love triangle among Korra, Asami, and Mako; Mako goes back and forth a couple of times between the women, causing discontent. Friendship proves stronger than the awkward love triangle, which ends with the season.

It becomes clear by season three that although there are strong male support roles, the leads and true heroes of the show are actually heroines. The most evident is Korra herself, who is a physically strong woman who fights in a team sport and in individual sparring matches to help her gain the stamina and willpower to save the world. Even the ever-submissive female, Julie, is lauded by the man who orders her around because he openly acknowledges that he cannot go anywhere without her. When they are separated, he misses her and her various talents dearly as he strives to do things for himself.

By the last season, we see a man who desires a job in which he would have a female superior, a woman being extraordinarily successful in business, a woman who, although she is the “bad guy” in the season, has essentially managed to take over an entire kingdom, and elderly women with mentoring and Yoda-like roles. Things that we don’t see are unrealistically heavily muscled men, women without useful roles, and damsels in distress, which are frequent in other children’s programming. We do see an entire episode of a woman recalling her heroic journey as a man recalls his romantic past, which is a refreshing gender role switch, and not very subtle. We also see a woman, Julie, standing up to her boss by demanding fair and equal treatment; she is no longer happy doing his bidding without his full respect. She gains this respect, and with it, an engagement ring. The most poignant moment in the entire Legend of Korra show, however, is the last scene:

Mimicking the final scene from Avatar: The Last Airbender, this finale launched The Legend of Korra into cartoon history. In the former show, the Avatar and his romantic interest kiss; however, the other parallels between the scenes allowed the fans to fill in the lapse themselves by creating Korrasami via fanart. Thus this children’s show features two women whose sexuality is fluid, even though it is not blatantly stated, which I believe earns The Legend of Korra a spot in this archive.