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Bisexuality in Film  
page: 1  2  

In John Schlesinger's 1971 film Sunday, Bloody Sunday, a gay man and heterosexual woman share a bisexual partner who is regarded as freewheeling because he does not "choose" either homo- or heterosexuality.

Cabaret (1972), based on the John Kander-Fred Ebb musical and inspired by Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories, features a relationship between the bisexual character Baron Max and the more clearly homosexual Brian Roberts. Roberts eventually ends up alone.

The 1994 independent film Go Fish, arguably the most successful and mainstream lesbian film, includes an openly bisexual character, Daria, who sleeps with a man and then undergoes an imaginary inquisition from her lesbian friends who disapprove and want to vote her out of the sisterhood.

Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon (1975) is a notable exception to these themes. Based on real events, the film presents Al Pacino as Sonny, who is married with children, but who is in love with Leon, his pre-op lover played by Chris Sarandon. Sonny robs a bank in order to pay for Leon's operation. It is an extraordinary circumstance presented without hysterics or pretense.

That same year, however, hysterics and pretense were celebrated in the campy cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Dr. Frank-N-Furter, portrayed by Tim Curry in transvestite drag, satisfies both Brad and Janet, the newlyweds played by Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon (former wife of Chris).

Recent Depictions

Despite some advances, Hollywood still regards depictions of bisexuality as taboo. Henry and June (1990), which includes a relationship between bisexual women, was the first film to earn the NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

On the other hand, Wild Things (1998), which also presents an explicit sexual relationship between the two female lead characters, as well as an implied one between the two male lead characters, did not receive such a rating; the film, however, merely exploits a heterosexual fantasy lesbianism that has little or nothing to do with an actual lesbian relationship.

A more serious recent depiction is in the Wachowski brothers' Bound (1996), in which Jennifer Tilly's mob-moll femme leaves her gangster man for a slightly butch Gina Gershon and never looks back.

Bisexual Performers

Rumors of bisexuality have persisted about many performers, from James Dean to Cary Grant to Tom Cruise, but only a few actors, such as Madonna, Joey Lauren Adams, Anne Heche, and Sandra Bernhard, have openly revealed their bisexual identities. It is no coincidence that the majority of these actors are women, for female bisexuality is still much more acceptable than male bisexuality, since it plays into a particular male heterosexual fantasy.

An especially interesting instance of bisexual infiltration is the Julia Roberts film My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), which opens with bisexual singer Ani DiFranco's tongue-in-cheek cover of Dusty Springfield's "Wishin' and Hopin'" played over the credits. The film also starred bisexual actor Rupert Everett, who stole the show as the predictably loveable, laughable gay sidekick to Roberts' lead.

Bisexuality in film, as separate from gay and lesbian representation, has emerged as a significant genre in its own right, even spawning a separate bisexual film festival in San Francisco.

Carla Williams

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arts >> Overview:  Film

Since cinema began, Hollywood has been fascinated with finding ways of representing homosexuality.

arts >> Overview:  Film Actors: Gay Male

Although few gay actors have been permitted the luxury of openness, many of them have challenged and helped reconfigure notions of masculinity and, to a lesser extent, of homosexuality.

arts >> Overview:  Film Actors: Lesbian

Lesbian actresses have played a significant role in Hollywood, but their contributions have rarely been recognized or spoken of openly; the "lavender marriage" is by no means a relic of the past.

arts >> Overview:  Film Festivals

The queer film festival circuit came into its own in the early 1990s and has since burgeoned into a major international phenomenon.

arts >> Bernhard, Sandra

Sharp-tongued comedienne, writer, singer, and actor Sandra Bernhard is known almost as well for her amorphous sexuality as for her cynical wit.

arts >> Dean, James

Although he spent only two years in Hollywood before his untimely death, James Dean became an enduring icon of American film, one whose brooding non-conformity helped challenge rigid notions of masculinity.

arts >> DiFranco, Ani

Openly bisexual singer Ani DiFranco, described as "the thinking person's acoustic punk feminist," has drawn on an eclectic mixture of musical traditions to create a distinctive style.

arts >> Everett, Rupert

Since 1989 when he came out in a press interview in Paris, Rupert Everett has defined and re-defined himself for the mass media as a gay male actor, being notably open about his homosexuality.

arts >> Grant, Cary

Although actor Cary Grant consistently denied rumors of his bisexuality, his good looks, charisma, and ambiguous sexuality enchanted women and men alike.

literature >> Isherwood, Christopher

A major Anglo-American novelist and a pioneer in the gay liberation movement, Christopher Isherwood created gay characters whose homosexuality is a simple given, an integral part of the wholeness of personality and an emblem of their common humanity.

arts >> Kander, John (b. 1927) and Fred Ebb (1932?-2004)

Composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb are the musical poets of the poymorphous perverse; their works glorify the creativity inherent in sexual ambivalence and celebrate unorthodox forms of political activism.

arts >> Schlesinger, John

British director John Schlesinger has been a significant force in introducing homosexual themes into mainstream British and American films.

arts >> Springfield, Dusty

Now widely acclaimed as one of the greatest voices of popular music, British rock star of the 1960s Dusty Springfield has long been a lesbian icon.


Bryant, Wayne M. Bisexual Characters in Film: From Anaïs to Zee. New York: Harrington Park Press, 1997.

Dyer, Richard, ed. Gays and Film. London: British Film Institute, 1977.

Ehrenstein, David. Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1928-1998. New York: William Morrow, 1998.

Hadleigh, Boze. The Lavender Screen: The Gay and Lesbian Film, Their Makers, Characters, and Critics. New York: Citadel Press, 1993.

Russo, Vito. The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies. Rev. ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.


    Citation Information
    Author: Williams, Carla  
    Entry Title: Bisexuality in Film  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated December 28, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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