glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Bookmark and Share
Bisexuality in Film  
page: 1  2  

The history of gays and lesbians in film is well documented, but bisexuality, in both characters and performers, has been less examined. While some historians and filmmakers take the approach that bisexuality is a mediated and therefore acceptable representation of homosexuality, others vilify the bisexual as either a traitor to the gay world or a maniacally homicidal or suicidal deviant torn between two worlds.

The first documented appearances of bisexual characters in motion pictures are A Florida Enchantment (1914), an American film by Sidney Drew, and Zapatas Bande, a German film from the same year. These early silent films were not burdened by overt censorship, and filmmakers were free to represent sexuality in their characters' lives within the constraints of the mores of the period.

Still, characters' sexuality was more often implied rather than definitively stated. Depictions of homosexuality and bisexuality were often cloaked in religious themes in order to evade local censors, who frequently edited films before they were screened.

The Hays Code

Around 1915 Hollywood invented itself as the film capital of the world and along with this new industry came widespread notoriety for rampant debauchery--especially drug use and promiscuous sex--among its employees, especially performers.

Eventually deciding it needed to regulate itself before external censors did, a group of filmmakers and producers hired Will H. Hays, former Postmaster General, to draft a series of guidelines that by 1934 had become the Motion Picture Production Code, or Hays Code, which banned any explicit representation of homosexuality or bisexuality in American films.

The words "gay," "homosexual," and "bisexual" could not even be uttered, and virtually no bisexual characters appeared in American films during the 1930s and 1940s. The lack of representation of bisexuals in film may have been abetted by the popular belief that bisexuality did not actually exist. Eventually, however, bold filmmakers began to release their films without adhering to the Code, which led to its complete abandonment in the 1960s.

Formulaic Scenarios

The demise of the Hays Code did not immediately translate into positive representations of homosexuals and bisexuals. Instead, what emerged were a few formulaic scenarios in which bisexual characters in film were presented.

In one scenario, a married bisexual's past is revealed or he or she strays with a same-sex partner. Adhering to this formula, Making Love (1982) was the first mainstream Hollywood film to address openly and directly the bisexual male character without vilification. Husband Michael Ontkean leaves wife Kate Jackson--the former Charlie's Angel Sabrina (and lesbian icon)--for another man, played by Harry Hamlin. While the film was not a commercial success, it was a watershed event in Hollywood's depiction of the bisexual as a normal, complex human being.

In another film formula, a gay man or lesbian is left by a bisexual lover who pursues a heterosexual relationship. In 1968's box-office success The Fox, the bisexual female character Ellen ultimately chooses a man over her female lover, who, in turn, is killed by the male, Paul.

In Personal Best (1982), the Mariel Hemingway character is awakened to her sexuality by Patrice Donnelly, but eventually settles with her coach, Scott Glenn.

A twist on this theme is Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy (1994). The character Alyssa is an avowed lesbian until she falls in love with a man; she has a relationship with him, but eventually returns to lesbianism.

In the third and most frightening scenario, the bisexual character is a deviant who kills or is killed for his or her sexuality. In the aforementioned The Fox, the lesbian's death is rife with symbolism: she is killed by a tree falling between her legs.

In Basic Instinct (1982), a film boycotted by gay, lesbian and bisexual groups for its perpetuation of the criminal homosexual, Sharon Stone portrays the murderous bisexual seductress Catherine Tramell. Her former bisexual lover is at one point assumed to be the murderer but ends up murdered by a man, Michael Douglas, with whom they have both been involved .

The Bisexual as Betrayer

The bisexual character in film is frequently represented as lacking commitment, someone who ultimately betrays his or her gay or straight partners or even his or her community.

Hollywood heartthrob Robert Redford played the bisexual husband Wade in 1966's Inside Daisy Clover; at the star's request, Wade was changed from homosexual to bisexual so that Redford could "play him as a guy who bats ten ways--men, women, children, dogs, cats, anything--anything that salves his ego." Although his bisexuality is barely alluded to in the film, the actor's intent was to represent bisexuality as a selfish, amoral endeavor.

    page: 1  2   next page>  
zoom in
Will Hayes (above) drafted the Hays Code which banned explicit representations of bisexuals and homosexuals in American films.
Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about The Arts
Popular Topics:

The Arts

Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators
Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators

Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall
Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall

Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male
Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male

New Queer Cinema

White, Minor

Halston (Roy Halston Frowick)


Winfield, Paul

McDowall, Roddy
McDowall, Roddy

Cadinot, Jean-Daniel
Cadinot, Jean-Daniel




This Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.