Dora reflects on her favourite movie, the iconically queer school girls-turned government agents comedy romance.
When I first had the dawning realisation that I might not be the bona fide heterosexual I had convinced myself I was, I naturally had something of an identity crisis. As a confused, insecure, and late-to-the-party queer person, I turned to cinema and television for comfort. I watched everything I could get my hands on with even the faintest trace of gayness, including a brief foray into Riverdale in a moment of desperation (I’m not proud of it). It was in this intense and confusing period of self-discovery that I began my ongoing love affair with the film D.E.B.S.
"I watched everything I could get my hands on with even the faintest trace of gayness, including a brief foray into Riverdale in a moment of desperation..."
One of the key issues I struggle with when watching queer cinema is that it often cannot seem to escape from the bleak contextual realities of homophobia and discrimination. Even beautiful films from the lesbian canon that I adore, from Carol to Portrait of a Lady on Fire, don’t provide the audience with positive closure. Often, it’s even more depressing than a mere doomed relationship. There is a longstanding tradition of death in queer cinema and television called the “Bury Your Gays” trope, also known as “Dead Lesbian Syndrome”. The trope is exactly what it sounds like: queer characters in film, television, and literature die at disproportionate levels compared to their straight counterparts. Even when they survive, a happy ending is rare.
"There is a longstanding tradition of death in queer cinema and television called the 'Bury Your Gays' trope, also known as 'Dead Lesbian Syndrome'."
“Bury Your Gays” comes from a background where explicitly queer characters could only exist in literature as villains, and therefore had to be clearly punished by the narrative. Over the years representation and acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people shifted, but the trope still pervades (there is a brilliant in-depth article by Haley Hulan for more information about the history of the trope, if you’re interested). Ultimately, I know that people of all creeds die in films, and I also understand that the context of homophobia lends itself to strife and turmoil in queer fiction, but it’s still exhausting to only see a happy ending for people like myself maybe once every five films. Sometimes, I just want to watch something fluffy, light, and gay.
This is where D.E.B.S. comes in. It’s got espionage and subterfuge, Y2K fashion, a superb title sequence, high-octane silliness, evil lairs, gadgets with poor graphics, an entertaining early 00s soundtrack, and a whole bunch of plaid. D.E.B.S. is a secret military academy that trains spies. There are four agents that the film focuses on: Amy, the academy’s best trainee; Max, the leader, Janet, who is just out here doing her best; and Dominique, the chain-smoking French wildcard. It’s silly, campy, and a lot of fun. With Angela Robinson as director, the film has excellent gay credentials too (fun fact: she is the partner of Alexandra Kondracke, who worked as a producer and writer for the The L Word - it’s a small, gay, world!). D.E.B.S is a send up of films like the original Charlie’s Angels (don’t talk to me about the remake: not even Kristen Stewart could save that), but because it has women and lesbians behind the camera the gaze feels celebratorily queer. The film was released to mixed reviews when it came out in 2004, but it has attained something of a cult status over the last decade. Robinson does lesbian camp perfectly.
"It’s got espionage and subterfuge, Y2K fashion, a superb title sequence, high-octane silliness, evil lairs, gadgets with poor graphics, an entertaining early 00s soundtrack, and a whole bunch of plaid."
The shining glory of D.E.B.S. is that it exists in a parallel, homonormative delight of a universe – sure, the characters experience trials and tribulations (they are secret agents after all), but crucially, none of this is to do with homophobia. The lovers, Amy (played in all her doe-eyed do-gooder glory by Sara Foster) and Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster’s misunderstood supervillain) are star-crossed because they come from polar opposite sections of society, not because they’re lesbians. Also, the development of their relationship is just really, really sweet! Amy can’t figure out why she’s not happy with her boyfriend (you’re a lesbian, Amy), while Lucy has been single for so long that her supportive best friend and sidekick Scud persuades her into a blind date with a Russian assassin. The queerness is incidental rather than integral to the plot. It is my ultimate comfort film in all its ridiculous, cheesy, campy glory.
D.E.B.S. is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
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