One Equal World

Bisexuality in Film

Posted on: February 1, 2016

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Historically, bisexuals looking to film for self-reflection have been painfully reminded of the public perception of them. Look at any vampire movie from the 60s and 70s and look at any portrayal of Caligula on screen. They’re promiscuous or perverted. At best, they’re ‘confused,’ young women assuming they’re lesbians until the right man comes along. (And then there’s usually a dark seductress who confused them in the first place).

In 2012, James Bond, icon of masculinity, implied bisexuality with a line meant for laughs in the face of a villain fondling him. And that tiny scrap of acknowledgment, in a franchise that has never so much as used the word bisexual, is still progression. That is how low the bar has been.

But there are movies out there, if you dig. And sometimes you have to squint a bit. To name a few:

1928: Sex in Chains. One of the oldest movies about ‘institutional homosexuality,’ the movie is about a man who gives in to sexual frustration while in jail and has sex with a fellow inmate, and ends up falling in love. Rather than making the jokes about prison-gay, the film is heartfelt and honest, addressing the kinds of attraction that can exist between two men. Perhaps if it had been written today, it would not be a tragedy. Probably still wouldn’t use the B-word, though.

1971: Sunday Bloody Sunday. This was the first film in Britain to show two men kiss. There’s no ambiguity about the lead’s bisexuality in this one, as he pursues simultaneous relationships with a man and woman who reluctantly share him. This was only four years after sex between men had been decriminalized, and the same year that same-sex marriage was officially banned in England and Wales.

1972 Cabaret. Widely hailed as an important landmark in gay cinema, perhaps the character with the most complete growth arc is side character Michael York, the bi man who forms the other leg of Minnelli’s triangular affair with the rich baron.

There are more of varying quality and prominence, but they did not become more common until the last half-decade or so. It’s still rare to find a story about a bisexual person that does not slide into the tropes of promiscuity, tragedy, or ‘just a phase,’ but new hopes are hitting the screen every day.

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