Are you being yourself or are you playing a character?
Since you were a kid, society has imposed limits that you've never been able to truly escape from. Only judging you by your anatomical traits, the world decided you had to play on an identity out of the binary mold the world has inherited generation after generation. Boys wear blue. Girls wear pink. Yet, this scheme is as arbitrary as it gets. What makes us think that a person should constantly play the same role throughout their whole life, not even being able to decide for themselves how they want to live? High heels weren't even a female item a few centuries ago. Why should we follow particular standards or ideals that are as passing as everything else?
Breaking from the limits of gender binaries is something that makes us feel free. It makes us realize that we can be whoever we want. Our anatomy doesn't define the way we act. Chromosomes don't determine all there is to a person, and we can impose our own will to build our own character, regardless of how society expects us to behave. These films portray characters who reveal how fluid and arbitrary identity is.
I Don't Want to Be a Man (1918), Ernst Lubitsch
One of Pabst's earliest films, it captures the story of a young woman who, after being repressed by a guardian who imposes his will over hers, starts dressing like a man in order to live the life she wants. Dressing up in a top hat and a tux, she breaks from the limits that society has assigned to her gender by playing a masculine role during her nights out. Yet, throughout her adventures, she'll reveal what lies behind the facades of those around her.
Yentl (1983), Barbra Streisand
Based on Isaac Bashevis Singer's story of the same name and Leah Napolin's eponymous play, Streisand's film is a heartbreaking musical that circles around the Jewish community and its rigid social restrictions. Acting against tradition, Yentl decides to impose her own will over the laws of her community in order to receive an education by cutting her hair short, taking her brother's name, and playing a man to truly fulfill her life's purpose: studying the Talmud Law.
Ocaña, an Intermittent Portrait (1987), Ventura Pons
Focusing on the life of the cross-gender Spanish painter, José Pérez Ocaña, Pons' documentary not only captures the performative intricacies of gender roles and drag, but it also shows the transition of his country into an era of liberation after over forty years of tyrannical repression by an authoritarian regime. A lucid, sparkling film on change, as well as sexual and personal fluidity, not only in people, but in countries themselves.
A Man like Eva (1984), Radu Gabrea
Gabrea's tribute to one of the most lucid directors of the New Wave of German cinema during the seventies, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, A Man Like Eva focuses on the story of one of the most mythical and sexually intense shootings of the controversial filmmaker. The movie brilliantly depicts the fluid sexuality and identity of Fassbinder by naming him EVA in the film and portraying him through the flexible and dazzling Eva Matte, who was actually a part of his acting company. The work is not a stunning homage to Fassbinder's work and legacy as an artist, but to his free-flowing view on life: to EVA everything is a scene, not only what happens on stage or on the screen.
Whatever Happened to Susan Jane? (1982), Marc Huestis
A cult film about drag and cross-dressing, the story follows an unsatisfied housewife, Marcie Clark, who after growing dull with boredom, runs into an old high school friend, Susan Jane, and ends up following her into the glittery world of San Francisco's counterculture and its sparkling parties. Lingering somewhere between fiction and documentary, the story in itself is more of an excuse of capturing the myriad colors of the city's bohemia and how freely and happily we can live when we decide to raise the middle finger to the heteronormative impositions of our culture.
Venus Boyz (2002) , Gabriel Baur
Baur's documentary captures the stunning drag kings of London and New York during the nineties, giving a portrayal of the performance aspect that permeates our lives, even though we repeat it unconsciously. Throughout the film, we see the lives of various female-born performers who not only play male characters on-stage, but also identify as males during their everyday lives. Watching their convincing impersonations and how naturally they can play a man shows us how much of what we've been taught as "natural" is nothing but an artificial social construction that can be altered at our will.
Twelfth Night (1996), Trevor Nunn
Gender is so fluid that even Shakespeare wrote a play about it more than 400 years ago. Twelfth Night tells a story of a young maiden, Viola, who after ending up at the coast of Illyria because of a shipwreck has to disguise as a man and invent a new male identity for herself in order to get by on her own. Her impersonation is so convincing that she ends making her employer's love interest fall for her, whilst she falls in love with her employer. Through it's comical and twisting irony, it evidently depicts the malleability and theatricality of gender.
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Anthology Film Archives