But I’m A Cheerleader (directors cut), has been released following the 20 year anniversary of the film.
But I’m A Cheerleader was released in 1999, the satirical film was directed by Jamie Babbit. Starring a fan favourite, Natasha Lyonne – now known for her irresistible role of Nicky in Orange is The New Black and the talented Happiest Season director Clea DuVall. Due to the anniversary, an exclusive director cut has been released with Apple TV. It includes deleted scenes, extended scenes and 4K quality for the first time. This gives viewers the ability to view the films aesthetic colour palette in all of its beauty.
The film follows a storyline of an innocent cheerleader, Megan (Lyonne), being sent to conversion therapy. This was after her family became suspicious of her ‘lesbianism’ following some ‘tell-tale traits’. She joins the outcast love interest Graham (DuVall) and ‘ex-gay’ worker Alex (RuPaul). The film is one of the first (and maybe only) films that represent women loving women so respectfully yet so positively even with the conversion therapy storyline.
The problem of lesbian films.
A frequent issue with a lot of lesbian films is the stereotypical storylines. One of these often being the entirety of the queer relationships being solely based on an underlying theme of sex, with explicit sexual scenes included often throughout the film. The other common storyline being a girl cheating on her long-term boyfriend with another girl, which is even included in Imagine Me & You and The L Word.
These common storylines almost become boring for women loving women (WLW) viewers. It gives the assumption that all WLW relationships are completely based on sexual factors, or that bisexual women would be happy to cheat on or leave their seemingly happy heterosexual relationship for another woman. A lot of bisexual and lesbian identifying women I have spoken to have agreed that they see these wrongful storylines too often.
But I’m A Cheerleader does not go close to visiting those harmful storylines.
To me, the film does not have a single fault. As a queer woman, I feel that my sexuality is represented so respectfully, even with comedic references.
The Love, Simon for lesbians.
I always thought that the lack of lesbian coming of age films is sad. Queer girls deserve a Love, Simon! Yet But I’m A Cheerleader gave me that and more. The humour really highlights the idiocy of conversion therapy and homophobia. It even includes bright pink and blue themes throughout the whole film. This shows the problem of the idea of the stereotypical gender constructs without going too far into it. I believe the film was completely ahead of its time.
‘Straight is Great’.
At the time of the release, AIDS was still a terrifying subject. It was frequently whispered about in the LGBTQ+ community. But I’m A Cheerleader broke the popular mould of the sad and devastating queer films being released left, right and centre. It gave the community a film that could be seen as an exclusive inside joke between the community. Especially when showing RuPaul, a huge gay icon, wearing a shirt with the slogan ‘Straight is Great’.
Following the release of But I’m A Cheerleader.
Unfortunately, Babbit was faced with numerous negative reviews at the time of release, from ‘men in their 50s and 60s’.
‘I knew I struck a chord because the reviews were so mean spirited. They were so angry that I knew I had done something really audacious.’ Babbit tells Variety. The film was so new and different at the time. However, for middle-aged men to give their critical opinion on a film targeted at young queer girls does not make sense. In a way, these factors make their reviews pointless.
The importance of But I’m A Cheerleader for queer women.
The film gave us (spoiler alert!) a happy ending. It gave every queer girl the film and representation they have been dreaming of.
I grew up watching every straight rom-com there was. When I finally watched But I’m A Cheerleader it made me feel an indescribable feeling of happiness and validity. Part of me just wished I had watched it sooner, especially when discovering my own sexuality.
Twenty years later, this movie is still constantly being discovered and recommended by many people of all kinds of ages and groups. From anything to TikTok videos to popular film review app, Letterboxd, reviews – it is still widely spoken about in the community.
The fact the film is directed by a powerful, queer woman is what makes it even better. The lack of women directors is still an issue. For films targeted at a female audience, so to have this film directed by Babbit is what makes it even more relatable and respectful. Babbit having first-hand experience with the issues shown in the film explains why the conversion camp and workers are all so well represented. The utter craziness of the camp itself is so realistic yet so laughable, but still sensibly highlighting the severity of these issues in the real world.
But I’m A Cheerleader deserves more love and attention from people of different ages, sexualities and views. It is completely loveable, hilarious and important. Queer women deserve so many more love tropes as incredible as this one and I hope one day there will be other women loving women films that will live up to the feeling that I, and millions of others, had when watching this beautiful film for the first time.
It is something I will quote and reference for the rest of my life. This will always be with complete and utter love and appreciation in my heart. In the words of Megan, ‘I’m a homosexual!’ (in case you could not tell) and this film makes me so happy to say that.
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