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Sapphic Valentine: WLW on the Big Screens

Article by: Frances Qarl M. Tolosa, Michaella Louise A. Llopis, and Princess Jazlyn B. Pereda

Graphics by: Cassius Klai C. Francisco

The liberation and acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community is a work in progress. Throughout the march for love and freedom, the rise of same-sex representations in pop culture has grown. Taking a different turn on romance, women-loving women (WLW) portrayals have been booming here and there. This month of love, here are WLW films and series to binge-watch alone or with your loved ones.

Graphics by: Cassius Klai C. Francisco

My First Summer (2020)

Balancing the calmness of their love story alongside the gloomy realities of dealing with death, “My First Summer” is a queer coming-of-age romantic film written and directed by Katie Found. It explores the delicate themes surrounding young sapphic love. Starring Markella Kavenagh as Claudia and Maiah Stewardson as Grace, Found’s directorial debut showcases a tender, sweet, and effervescent take on adoration, grief, and companionship. The movie is available for streaming on Amazon Video, Google Play Movies, Sky Store, YouTube, and Apple TV.

The story pans on 16-year-old Claudia, who grew up in isolation, stranded on a remote property while dealing with her mother’s death. With the twist of fate, Grace enters Claudia’s lifeless life like a breath of fresh, sugary air. Finding solace with each other, their camaraderie deepens into the love and intimacy they need. Claudia and Grace’s idyllic peace and romance transcends the summer, albeit the slow-burn development of the protagonists.

The Prom (2020)

A voyage of scrutiny and approval, “The Prom” is a musical comedy film adapted from the 2018 Broadway musical of the same name. The film is currently on Netflix and presents a star-studded cast, including Meryl Streep as Dee Dee Allen, James Corden as Barry Glickman, Ellen Pellman as Emma Nolan, and Ariana DeBose as Alyssa Greene, among others.

The movie is set in Indiana. Emma faces discrimination from her school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) for planning to attend prom with her girlfriend, Alyssa, the PTA head’s closeted daughter. The PTA becomes infuriated and decides to call off prom. After seeing the story online, Broadway actors Barry and Dee Dee supported her in her battle against injustice. For the musical geeks who seek films that bring camp and queerness to the big screen, this is the movie to watch.

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

“The Watermelon Woman” is a revolutionary sapphic film that brings light to racial issues with a romantic spin. Directed by Cheryl Dunye, this is the first feature film directed by an openly out lesbian. This American romantic-comedy drama is written and edited by Dunye herself, who also stars as Cheryl, a young black lesbian working a day job in a film store. The cast also features Guinevere Turner as Diana, Valerie Walker as Tamara, and Lisa Marie Bronson as Fae “The Watermelon.” The movie is available for rent on Amazon Video, Apple TV, Google Play Movies, YouTube, and Vudu.

The story begins with 25-year-old Cheryl taking an interest in films featuring Black women from the 1930s and 1940s, realizing that the actresses in these roles are often not credited. After watching the movie “Plantation Memories,” where a black actress playing a mammy — a derogative stereotype typically of enslaved Black women who nurses children — is credited as “The Watermelon Woman,” she decides to make a documentary uncovering the woman’s identity. Later, she also discovers her own. The protagonist later enters a relationship with Diana, a white lesbian at the video rental store, while continuing to interview people for her documentary. The story deepens as they tackle interracial dating and the shunted issues among the marginalized.

Billie and Emma (2018)

“Billie and Emma” is a local 2018 independent LGBTQ+ coming-of-age film directed by Samantha Lee. The film revolves in a mid-1990s setting when Emma is sent to study in a Catholic all-girls school in the province of Northern Samar by her father, as he hopes that she will learn her lesson on not being a lesbian. She resides at the place of her aunt Amy, who is also her religion teacher at the school, who then lectures students about how homosexuality and abortion are a sin.

With her masculine haircut and combat boots, Billie struggles to fit in with her new environment. She hopes to survive her last year in high school as she wants to return to Manila to pursue music. On the other hand, Emma is an academic achiever and a popular student in their school. Paired to be partners for a project, they started interacting as they were. The two got closer to each other as time went by, and they developed feelings for each other. The film tackles the struggles of teenage queers as they face the conflict between religion and homosexuality. Billie and Emma represent the hardships of inclusivity, self-expression, and peer pressure that queers experience.

Currently, the movie is only available for streaming in the United States and Canada via The Roku Channel and Tubi TV.

Arcane (2021)

“Arcane” is an animated action-adventure series created by Christian Linke and Alex Yee. It was produced by Fortiche under the supervision of Riot Games and released through Netflix in 2021. The animated series bagged several awards in prestigious events, such as Primetime Emmy Awards and Annie Awards. The story revolves around Hailee Steinfeld's characters as Violet or Vi and Ella Purnell as Powder or Jinx.

The cities of Piltover and Zaun are the settings for the game adaptation series. While Zaun is a relatively undeveloped neighborhood called the undercity, Piltover is a well-known progressive city known as the City of Progress. The show tackles the complex nature of politics and society tied with themes of family, queerness, grief, and madness, beautifully portrayed to raise awareness in the gaming and animation communities. The series is available for streaming via Netflix. The second season is set to premiere in November 2024.

Steven Universe (2013-2019)

Challenging the barriers of its radicality for a (supposed) children’s show, “Steven Universe” is an introduction to people of all ages who want a lighthearted watch on love, family, and the prominence of sapphic and LGBTQ+ themes. Airing on Cartoon Network, the American animated television series is created by Rebecca Sugar, who later revealed that the queer representation is her experience with bisexuality and feminism.

Set in the fictional town of Delmarva, the Crystal Gems live in an ancient beachside temple and protect humanity from threats. Half-human, half-Gem boy Steven is the son of their former leader, Rose Quartz. Mixed with sci-fi world-building, the show portrays queerness and is progressive for a cartoon. Ruby and Sapphire’s romantic fusion reveals how Garnet, Steven’s guardian, was conceived – her song explicitly narrates how she is made of love. Pearl, a part of the Gems, was also in a sapphic romance with Rose Quartz before she fell in love with Steven’s father, Greg. Steven Universe is available for streaming on Netflix, HBO Go, and the official website of Cartoon Network.

Everything Sucks! (2018)

"Everything Sucks!” is a Netflix original comedy-drama series created by Ben York Jones and Michael Mohan, composed of one season. The series follows students at Boring High School, Boring, Oregon, in 1996, including social outcasts from the A/V Club and Drama Club. The protagonist, Kate Messner, is a sophomore who struggles with her sexuality and develops feelings for Emaline Addario, someone from the Drama Club who already has a boyfriend.

In the show, a boy named Luke develops a crush on Kate as she begins questioning her sexuality and ultimately falls for Emaline. Despite rumors about her lesbianism, Kate starts dating Luke. Throughout the season, Kate fumbles with her identity and feelings for Emaline. Portraying the challenges of adolescence, the series highlights the process that comes with acceptance, with societal expectations abound. It emphasizes the importance of self-discovery, acceptance, and friendship amidst the complexities of teenage life.

The media is a powerful tool to influence public opinion and morality. In the collective plight for the right to be free and be accepted for love and identity, queer representation is crucial in amplifying calls for equality and liberation. Though there is still a long way to go, WLW films and series help the LGBTQ+ community, especially queer women, in taking up space and cementing their existence in history — one screen at a time.

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