Without a doubt as the 1990s came upon people, times were changing. Women were allowed to be sexy instead of sex objects. Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock duked it out in the theaters on who could give off the more “Girl Next Door” vibes. But there was more going around in these movies.
Hillary Clinton would invoke the ire of men and women by saying she wasn’t going to be a tradition “Stand By Your Man” First Lady and then showed those conservatives she meant business. Janet Reno became the first woman Attorney General of the country while Madeline Allbright would be the first Secretary of State.
With it being the last day of June Pride Month, many 1990s movies weren’t afraid to potray a love story between two women on the silver screen. The most obvious one to begin the decade is Fried Green Tomatoes between Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker). Without a doubt, this is one of the best love stories ever in a movie. And while the book by Fannie Flagg obviously indicates they’re lesbians, the movie makes it ambiguous.
However, I’d argue it’s ambiguity is what makes it so great. We can see a man and a woman in a relationship in a movie and take it at face value. They may not be intimate on screen, but we still accept it. With Idgie and Ruth, we see two people who are in love with each other. They don’t have to hold hands or kiss but from the moment Ruth watches Idgie collect honey from a beehive, it’s obvious they are in love.
Later during a food fight scene, they get really close together. This is no different than when you’re in the kitchen with your BAE on a weekend morning cooking breakfast. You don’t need to be all over each other, but it’s obvious the way they’re handling the food before it turns into a playful fight, they probably have done this before. The scene is like the volleyball scene in Top Gun. You think it’s one thing, but it’s another. And millions of women in the 1990s watched it laughing. But the minute I saw it, I knew something was up with the scene. And I’m sure many other women did too.
Later when Ruth is diagnosed with cancer, the story shifts to a lesbian version of Love Story. And you know you have your Kleenex handy because you’re ugly crying knowing this couple who raised a young boy together won’t get a happier ending. People have dismissed Idgie as a tomboy as she refuses to behave the way southern women, especially those of high society, were expected. But I think the movie hints at the very beginning when Idgie and Ruth meet when they’re younger, Idgie is attracted to Ruth.
The other story is about women empowerment as Kathy Bates playing small-town Alabaman housewife Evelyn Couch hears stories of Idgie and Ruth from Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy). Evelyn is in a stale marriage with her husband, Ed (Gailaird Sartain). Ed isn’t a bad man. He just obviously doesn’t understand Evelyn wants and needs more. She loves Ed and won’t leave him. She just needs a more equal partnership in the marriage.
Women empowerment became a big issue in movies in the 1990s. They weren’t waiting around for some man to save the day. Some people have argued that Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis) and Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandaon) are secret lesbians. I don’t think so. They’re just good friends. Louise has a boyfriend, Jimmy Lennox (Michael Madsen) and Thelma has a husband, Darryl (Christopher McDonald) who is very controlling and demeaning. They go away on a weekend trip that turns south when a man, Harlan (Timothy Carhart), sexually assaults Thelma. Louise stops it by aiming a gun at him but when Harlan knows he’s going to get away as they’re not going to the police, he indicates he shouldn’t finished raping her and tells Louise to “Suck my dick!” And she shoots him dead.
The movie uses rape and sexual assault differently. Movies in the 1970s and 1980s often used it to show how meek women are. Even in The Accused, the rape of Jodie Foster’s character by three men was still viewed by some people as her fault. It took the testimony of one of the men who watched it to get a conviction and justice in the case. Other movies, like Bloodsport, with Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Forced Vegeance, with Chuck Norris, have women being raped for no other reason but to give the protagonist more reason to kill the bad guys or defeat them in a sporting event.
It’s different in Thelma & Louise as it immediately backs them into an unfair corner. Realizing the law probably won’t see it as self-defense, they go on the lam. Later, Thelma meets a hitchhiking younger cowboy, J.D. (Brad Pitt) and has a one-night stand with him before he robs her. Despite people accusing it of being man-bashing, both Jimmy and Arkansas State Police Det. Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel) are very sympathetic to them both. Why don’t they make the same argument against movies where men rape women but are killed by a male character.
There’s also a scene where a New Mexico state trooper played by Jason Beghe breaks down crying when he thinks Thelma is going to shoot him. But they’re not murderers. I’m sure if a man wanted from law enforcement got the upper hand, he would’ve shot the trooper. Instead, they make him get into the trunk of the patrol vehicle and close it with some air holes so he can breathe.
The sleazy truck driver whose vehicle they cause to explode by shooting at it fucks around and finds out. In Duel, we’re rooting for Dennis Weaver as he is being taunted by a maniac truck driver.
The same summer, Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released where Linda Hamilton reprised her role as Sarah Connor. But in the 11 years in between the setting of the first one and the second one, Sarah has become stronger, both physically and mentally, and realized she’s not going to be the timid waitress on a moped that she was in the first one. From the first time,we see her, she’s doing pull-ups by putting her bed frame on a different vertical angle. She’s obviously not taking any shit from anyone.
You could ask 100 people at random what they think about when they hear about Linda Hamilton, who played Sarah, and they’d all mention the scene where she’s one-arm cocking a shotgun to shoot the T-1000 (Robert Patrick). While she’s still frightened and apprehensive of the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent back to save her son, John (Edward Furlong), she grows to appreciate and respect him. At the end, when she shakes the T-800 hand, it’s a scene that means a lot because she’s seen him diferently.
But Sarah isn’t a pushover. This might explain why so many people were upset with Terminator: Genisys where the T-800 comes off as a father figure to her. She even calls him, “Pops.” James Cameron had written and filmed a short scene in which a vision of Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) appears to Sarah when she appears weak and tells her to protect John. This is wrong because it portrays Sarah as the same character she was in the first movie before switching to a badass. You can see the scene in the link below:
In Terminator: Dark Fate, yet another reboot but better, Sarah appears as a middle-aged woman and Hamilton returns in the role. There’s more lesbian tension here between Sarah and Grace (Mackenzie Davis), the cyborg sent back in time. But I wouldn’t really say that in T2 Sarah was a lesbian. She still has love for Reese. Just because she doesn’t run around screaming hysterically, picking up a shotgun or a handgun and starting to fight, doesn’t make her a lesbian. But I think the image of Hamilton has influenced a lot of women to become more empowered and not take shit off anyone.
Later movies in the 1990s would be more frank, upfront and explicit. Basic Instinct, released in 1992, had an openly bisexual character in Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone.) There was a little TV movie, Lake Consequence, that premiered on Showtime in the spring of 1993 that probably had many people watching it, most notably for the sexual scenes between bored housewife Irene (Joan Severance) and Billy Zane’s lover, Grace (Mary Karasun). I remember a guy who worked at one of the video rental places in the northwest Georgia town I grew up in recommended it to some guy who asked if they had any pornos in stock. It’s softcore erotica, but it does portray the tides were turning.
Live Nude Girls had a sex scene between bisexual Georgina (Lora Zane) and Chris (Olivia d’Abo) while Laila Robins watched and smoke a cigarette in her underwear. Later, Chris and Marcy (Cynthia Stevenson) share a kiss. In Wild Side, released in 1995, there was a steamy sex scene between Anne Heche and Joan Chen that isn’t explicit but actually shows us two people who are attracted to each other. We also got Embrace of the Vampire in 1995 which had a scene between Alyssa Milano and Charlotte Lewis.
Sex is one thing. But love is another. In 1995, a kids’ movie, Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain was released and flopped like a lot of other movies I mentioned before. Set during ther summer of 1980 in the Pacific Northwest, it features a young teenage girl, Beth Easton (Christina Ricci) finding a new friend in Jody Salerno (Anna Clumsky) when she moves there from Los Angeles following the death of her father. At first, Jody, like Idgie, comes off as just another tomboyish character.
But as others have pointed out, there’s more about Jody’s free spirit that Beth likes. She’s more or less enamored with her in many scenes as she looks at Jody the way a heteorosexual girl would see a boy. While they don’t ever do anything because it’s a kids movie and seeing two teenage actors like Ricci and Clumsky in 1995 kiss in a movie would definitely get the FBI arresting the filmmakers, they’re in love with each other. Beth calls Jody the “finest women she ever knew.”
You can probably imagine that after the events of the movie ended, Beth and Jody are probably living together in the then-present day 1995.
Roald Dahl may not have written Jennifer Honey in the book, Matilda, as a lesbian and Embeth Davidtz probably didn’t mean to play her as one, yet she stil comes off as a model for young women who saw the movie. As a survivor of her tyranny of her cruel aunt, Agatha Trunchball (Pam Ferris), Honey is a teacher at Crunchem Hall. Incidentally, Trunchball is also the principal treating the young children in typical Dahl-like fashion.
When new student, Matilda Wormwood (Mara Wilson), begins at the school, she is inspired by Miss Honey to believe in herself. Matilda is a young genius but she doesn’t get this type of encouragement from her greedy, egotistical parents, Harry and Zinnia Wormwood (Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman). Miss Honey lives alone and is her own person. While in real life, Davidtz has been married to entertainment attorney, Jason Sloane, since 2002, Wilson has come out publicly as bisexual.
In 1996, the Wachowskis in their first movie made Bound. On the surface, it’s a typical crime thriller about an ex-con with help of a femme fatale who try to steal money from the mob. But the Wachowskis, who are both transgendered women, Lana and Lily, made this when they were known as Larry and Andy respectively, put a nice spin on it. In Bound, the ex-con, Corky (Gina Gershon) is an openly gay character. The fatale, Violet, is played by Jennifer Tilly in a sultry performance in which her voice and body adds more dimensions to her character.
What’s impressive is how the Wachowskis and Gerson and Tilly make it all work that it isn’t forced. Gershon had played a Vegas star in Showgirls which has scenes between Gershon and Elizabeth Berkley but it has the feel of scenes written by men and directed by men. There is an immediate attraction between Corky and Violent that goes deeper as the two begin to learn more about each other. When they do finally have sex, it’s no different than a scene between a man and a woman.
The Wachowskis aren’t focused on the sex between Corky and Violet as much as they work together to pull off the robbery when it goes worse when Violet’s mobster boyfriend, Caesar (Joey Pantoliano) kills a mob boss, his son and bodyguard. At this point, Corky being a lesbian and Violet being bisexual is irrelevant and we can enjoy a very tense and well-made thriller.
Other movies as the decade ended gave us Demi Moore, bald and buff, as a Navy SEAL trainee in G.I. Jane. We got Davis again as a former CIA assassin turned schoolteacher in The Long Kiss Goodnight who is also a badass. Written by Shane Black and directed by her husband at the time, Renny Harlin, the movie was an attempt to make audiences forget about Davis’ previous pirate movie, Cutthroat Island, also directed by Harlin. Incidentally, both Jane and Goodnight have scenes in which the main characters scream, “Suck my dick!”
In Wild Things, we got two scenes of Neve Campbell and Denise Richards making out, even though both scenes seem to be the erotic fantasies of a man and a way to attract young men into a theater. I like the movie. I just think the scenes are a little too much to be believable.
In 1999, there was The Other Sister, a movie I didn’t like, Sarah Paulson plays a character who is openly gay, just as Paulson has dated both actresses Cherry Jones and Holland Taylor. The movie treats her character just like any other character. The same can be said for Tammy Metzler (Jessica Campbell) in the satire movie, Election. Tammy says she doesn’t consider herself a lesbian but she only ever been attracted to other women. She runs for student president against her brother, Paul (Chris Klein) when her girlfriend dumps her and begins dating him and she observes them having sex in a hot-tub. In the end, Tammy goes to an all-girls school where she finds a new girlfriend.
Even though we’ve come a long way since 1999, it’s not long enough. And even movies like The Other Sister and Election wouldn’t be able to be made without more stereotypical character just 10 years earlier. There obviously was a tonal shift in how women were portrayed as well as their relationships in the 1990s. It was a slow change and there was some resentment. If you watch Courage Under Fire with Meg Ryan as an Army Captain who was a helicopter pilot, a woman character doesn’t like her saying she was “too butch.”
People are always afraid of change when it won’t benefit them directly. And as Hollywood studios still seem to cater to oversees audiences more than at home, it might be a little longer before we see better equality on screen. But thankfully gone are the days of the stereotypical views on women who were bisexual or in same-sex relationships from decades. And even though I like Chasing Amy, you can see several mistakes Kevin Smith made 25 years later. But in 1997, it was considered groundbreaking.
Going back to Fried Green Tomatoes, I know people who will still argue that Idgie and Ruth are just good friends. Yes, and your uncle or aunt just had a roommate. Despite what an awful person like Clarence Thomas thinks, we need to keep same-sex marriages in law. Just because his marraige is in peril, doesn’t mean the rest of the country has to suffer.
What do you think? Please comment.