Lesbian Terrorists Use Porn as Propaganda in This Radical New Film
We talked to controversial queer filmmaker Bruce LaBruce about his new film, "The Misandrists," which mixes punk rock, political theory, and porn—and promises to piss pretty much everyone off.
All images courtesy of Bruce LaBruce
The lesbian intifada is coming, and the man—yes, man—getting it all on film is Bruce LaBruce. The radical queer filmmaker, artist, and writer has just finished shooting his tenth feature, The Misandrists, which follows what its synopsis describes as a "secret cell of feminist terrorists that is plotting to liberate women, overthrow the patriarchy, and usher in a new female world order." Crucial to this revolution is the use of lesbian porn as propaganda.
LaBruce got his start editing the queer punk zine J.D.s in the late 80s. These days, he's best known for transgressive low-budget films such as 2008's Otto; or, Up With Dead People (one of two gay zombie features LaBruce has made) and 2004's Baader-Meinhof riff The Raspberry Reich. Like that earlier work, The Misandrists promises to combine political theory, avant-garde aesthetics, and explicit sex—an ideal recipe for pissing off ideologues on the right and the left. That punk-rock approach has made LaBruce a hero to those who feel like outsiders even within marginalized groups. Now he's turning to those comrades for help in completing his new film—with a Kickstarter campaign that will fund its post-production, art direction, costumes, and original score. Broadly spoke with LaBruce by phone from his home in Toronto.
BROADLY: What inspired you to make a movie about lesbian terrorists?
Bruce LaBruce: My interest in feminism goes way back to high school. I wrote a paper my male professor hated, called "Feminism: Woman's Savior" or something. [Years later,] with J.D.s, we started getting into a queer, feminist, oppositional stance against what had happened in the punk movement, which was a strong strain of machismo. Even though they were supposedly politically radical, some [punks] were so homophobic and misogynistic. That was the genesis of The Misandrists.
I made The Raspberry Reich in 2004, which was about sexual revolution and homosexual revolution, and a critique of the radical left. But the revolution represented [in that film] was more gay male. I had some lesbian friends and people I'd run into at festivals or online who said, "Why weren't lesbians represented in your revolution?" So I was out to redress that.
The cast of The Misandrists is almost all female, but there are also a lot of women working on the film behind the scenes. Was it important for you to have female collaborators?
Oh yeah, for sure. I wanted it to be as collaborative as possible. I have two lesbian feminist producers, Amard Bird Films. We tried to hire as many female crew members as possible—partly because we were shooting some sexually explicit scenes and we wanted a comfort level. But it doesn't always work out that way when you're making no-budget or independent films. Two of the women we had as principal crew members had to drop out several weeks before shooting because they had better-paying jobs that came up—or jobs that paid at all! But we did the best we could.
You've written that you're making the film with limited resources to ensure creative freedom, among other reasons. What about The Misandrists in particular requires that approach?
I have several other films that are intended to be made with bigger budgets in development. I'm trying to get government financing in Canada, and the process is very, very slow. For this project, because it's low budget, there's not so much money at stake. I can make the kind of film I want to make without any commercial considerations, or without any prior censorship, and let my imagination go crazy. I presented the [Misandrists] script to several production entities and distributors, and they were like—as people often say about my movies—"This is a movie for no one." [laughs] It has something to offend everyone.
Equal-opportunity offense has always been a big part of your work.
Yeah. It started with the gay establishment in the 80s. When I made my early films and fanzines, we were reacting against the conservatism and the assimilationism of the gay movement and the fact that it was a predominantly gay male, middle-class, white movement. There was a lot of misogyny and racism and a lot of marginalization of ethnic minorities, transgender people, etc. Working-class issues weren't studied or addressed.
You love putting extremist groups in your films. What do you find so fascinating about them?
It's partly the punk ethos, which is to challenge the status quo and question authority at every turn. It's also about pursuing very basic problems with the dominant ideology, like patriarchy or systemic racism or systemic sexism. I never believed in the strategy of changing the system from within—or [in] the post-feminist idea [that] women can become equal to men and just as powerful and just as successful within these corrupt institutions. My constituency, we were always totally marginalized by the mainstream anyway. So why would we want to join a party we weren't invited to?
We're living in a moment when feminism couldn't be more mainstream—from Lean In to Beyoncé. Is important to you to restore some sense of radicalism to the movement?
Yeah. Hillary Clinton is really the apotheosis of [mainstream] feminism. I find it completely grotesque.
The idea was to get back to an idea of feminism that is even kind of essentialist. I realize how contentious that is, and the film does very contradictory things. Gender non-binary and transgender issues are central to the film, but it's also about this idea of lesbian radicalism from the 80s, which is positing feminine essentialism as the only answer to subverting millennia of patriarchal control. It's about relating feminism to Mother Earth, to nature, to fecundity, to procreation, to life, and [about] how patriarchal institutions have exploited and disrespected this feminine energy.
You have to put your Marxism or your feminism where your mouth is and not shy away from the lesbian sex.
Do you think all of those essentialist ideas can be valid in the same movement that makes space for transgender or non-binary identities?
Yeah. My personal belief is: Feminine, essential respect—it's not just biologically determined. It's a state of mind as well. Even on a personal level—and I know women scoff at this (I don't blame them, I guess)—but I was female-identified from a very young age. I often wonder, if I'd been more encouraged, if I would've become more fluid in my gender identity.
Does The Misandrists draw on the work of any real feminist revolutionaries?
The two main sources, for me, were Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and Ulrike Meinhof, who wrote a book called Everybody Talks About the Weather... We Don't. She was one of the main four members of the Baader-Meinhof faction. [The book is] about her ideas of radical leftist discourse, but also a lot of ideas about feminism. Meinhof talked about how it doesn't make sense for women to try to gain equal rights in a system that is already manifestly corrupt and exploitative. There's no point in having equal rights in an already inequitable system.
Let's talk about the word misandry, because it's so loaded. Some people say misandry is impossible in a patriarchy, just as "reverse racism" can't exist in a white supremacist culture. But it's also become a running joke among feminists, especially on the Internet. What drew you to the term?
For me, it's going back to more basic, second-wave feminism—the fact that there is a word for the hatred of women, misogyny, that everyone knows. It's common because the phenomenon that the word represents is so common. But you say "misandry" or "misandrist" to the average person, and they don't know what it means. Which says something about the culture, that the word for hatred of women is so widely understood and the word for hatred of men is incomprehensible. The other [reason I used the word] is that it's identifying these radical feminists exactly as they don't want to be termed. Or maybe some feel like [they are misandrists] but don't feel comfortable saying it. It's a taboo word. Man-hater: It's the ultimate stereotype of a feminist. But sometimes man-hating is justified—quite often, actually! So why not say it? For me, it's used affectionately.
Explicit sex has always been a big part of your films—usually between men. What role does lesbian porn play in The Misandrists?
I did make a short film that a lot of people didn't see; it wasn't distributed because of music rights. I worked with a feminist collective burlesque troupe in Toronto called the Scandelles [to make] Give Piece of Ass a Chance. They wrote it for me to direct, as a lesbian tribute to The Raspberry Reich. It's about a group of female terrorists who kidnap the daughter of a wealthy industrialist and "fuck-wash" her into their beliefs. There's an extended scene of cunnilingus, of one of the women licking the vagina of this heiress—in huge close-up. It played in San Francisco years ago, and RuPaul had some movie out, so it was an all-gay audience. I wasn't there, but I heard that when this scene came up, half the audience was appalled and shocked, and the other half was cheering.
So it's something I've done before. We were very conscious of boundaries and limitations. Everything was discussed beforehand, in terms of understanding that there would be explicit scenes. Some of the women already do sexually explicit work in their own artwork, so for them it wasn't a problem. There isn't a lot of sexual explicitness in the film, but I was trying to be as frank and open about lesbian sexuality as I could—with a more softcore, 70s vibe. There is an orgy scene, which has some explicit stuff in it. We left the eight female performers alone and they had a discussion, before we shot, of boundaries and who liked what and who preferred not to do something specific.
At some point in the early 90s, I was pretty politically correct in terms of representation. And then I got deprogrammed by a couple of friends who pointed out to me that I was censoring myself and that I should question this idea of politically correct female representation. Which is a very intense issue, because the whole thing that blew second-wave apart was pro-sex vs. anti-sex, pro-porn vs. anti-porn feminists. I was definitely in the pro-porn category, so I allowed myself to do more politically incorrect things, which included representing explicit female sexuality.
As you mentioned, sex and porn have divided feminists for decades. Then there are some feminists who might even chafe at the idea of a male director depicting the movement at all. Are you worried about The Misandrists pissing off viewers you're sympathetic to?
To me, it's important because I'm making a film about sexualized radicalism; you have to put your Marxism or your feminism where your mouth is and not shy away from the lesbian sex. I was especially trying to be conscious that there's a whole weird phenomenon where lesbian sex is fetishized by straight men, and trying to present a [vision of] female sexuality that can deflect that by virtue of the narrative that we're telling. It's obvious that the kind of sex we're representing is not meant to fetishized in that way. [The Misandrists is] meant to be a polemic and to challenge people's ideas about feminism and what it means and even if a gay man can be a feminist. I'm happy with how collaborative it was and how we approached it ethically. I'm expecting a lot of criticism, but I think I can handle it.