Films by this Filmmaker in the Tri-College Library Collection

Lesbian Avengers Eat Fire, Too

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 55 min

Lesbian Avengers Eat Fire, Too (2013), Dir. Su Friedrich and Janet Baus

Lesbian Avengers

Lesbian Avengers Eat Fire, Too documents the 1992-1993 activities of a New York chapter of the lesbian direct action group the Lesbian Avengers. The film gives a sense of the flamboyant and unapologetic yet varied direct action tactics the group used, from eating fire at protests, to leaving stink bombs outside the office of a lawyer for a homophobic school superintendent and covering his office with “Homophobia Stinks” stickers, to protesting inside the office of SELF Magazine after the magazine planned a conference in Colorado, a state that had recently passed an anti-gay and -lesbian amendment. We see extended footage of the protest in favor of the multicultural Rainbow Curriculum; an anti-violence march and vigil in Greenwich Village following the murder of two gay people in Oregon at a time when Oregon had an anti-lesbian and -gay measure on the ballot; and of the Valentine’s Day installation of a statue of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein’s lover, next to the statue of Stein.

Formally, the documentary cuts back and forth between interviews with members of the organization, extensive footage of direct actions, and often hilarious clips of passers-by responding to the question, “Who do you think the Lesbian Avengers are?” The candid, conversational interviews, filmed during Avengers meetings, and the glee and raw power of the extensive protest footage combine to relay a sense of the explosive political energy of these lesbian activists, fed up with invisibility in women’s and gay movements and respectability politics among their fellow lesbians in this historical moment. Absent from the film is any overview of the group’s structure or sense of how the group was situated with respect to other queer activist groups. The film, directed by two Avengers, treats each action as a victory, and functions as a call to action, ending with the Avengers’ hotline number. The content of the interviews shown, which feature racially diverse lesbians, suggest that the group took an intersectional approach to; as one woman says, “Anything can be a lesbian issue.” However, critiques of the group by lesbians of color are given no screen time in this documentary.

Suggested Uses:

Because the documentary focuses exclusively on the Avengers, with little attention to coexisting groups of the era like OutRage! and ACT-UP, and because it presents no criticism of the Avengers, it is of limited use in conveying historical information. It would be more useful in conveying the mood of the group and in presenting a compelling case for the Avengers’ brand of activism. While it is necessarily one-sided, it could be an entry point into the women’s and gay movements in a high school history class, or in a college class focused on lesbian activism, if shown in concert with readings or films that offered other perspectives on the activism of the time. Or, watch it just for fun!

Bibliographic Item:

the march, off our backs: The radical feminist periodical off our backs documented the Avengers’ activities, including the inaugural Dyke March in Washington, DC.

Hide and Seek (Dir: Su Friedrich, 1996)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 64 min

Produced by Eva Kolodner and Katie Roumel
Black and White, 16mm
Distributed by Women Make Movies

Hide and Seek is a film that includes both documentary and narrative in telling the story of young and adolescent lesbians as they are first discovering their sexual orientation. The documentary sections are all reflective: older women remembering their youth and their feelings surrounding sexuality. They often speak about gender expression, specifically whether they were “tomboys,” refusing to wear dresses, playing rough and dirty games, and almost exclusively hanging around with the boys. Though this is an entirely legitimate reminiscence of lesbians, it potentially conflates gender and sexuality, making lesbians somehow less female than heterosexual women. In addition to reflections on gender expression, the women reflect on their early desires for other women ranging from friends to teachers and their experimentation, especially with friends. These documentary sections are interspersed with an acted out narrative of a young girl, Lou, displaying many of the characteristics described by the women. Lou, a young tomboy, refuses to wear dresses, plays with the boys, and by all indications, has a crush on her best friend. As the film progresses and Lou and her friends grow older, Lou’s female friends begin talking about boys, making her feel even more excluded from their heteronormative female world. Meanwhile, she also gets her period, excluding her from the boys and making her “a woman,” as her mother insists to her daughter’s great chagrin. The film ends still in the girl’s early adolescence. She does not come out as a lesbian, and the women in the documentary do not speak about their experiences coming out to family and friends, only to themselves, and only partially. Mostly it addresses youthful experiences surrounding gender and sexuality experienced by lesbians rather than a coming to terms with a lesbian identity within oneself and within the context of a heteronormative world. Indeed, Lou’s 1960’s world seems to be a wonderful place of nice friends and family and no racial or class tensions. This rose-tinted world is reflected in the documentary reflections of the older women. They recall little in the way of tension especially in terms of race and class, as if these issues do not intersect with or affect youth and sexuality.

Added by Professor White: New York-based Su Friedrich has been making experimental personal films since the 1970s and is known for her rigorously structured, precisely edited work, which brings together queer and feminist filmmaking and the avant-garde. Gently Down the Stream, Sink or Swim and Damned if You Don’t are in the Tri-College collection.

Useful sources:
Griffith, C.A. and H.L.T. Quan. “Feminisms and Youth Cultures” Rev. of The F Word, Hide and Seek, and Daughters of Dykes. Signs. Vol. 23, No. 3, Spring 1998. Pp. 862-867.

Holmlund, Chris: “When Autobiography Meets Ethnography and Girl Meets Girl: The ‘Dyke Docs’ of Sadie Benning and Su Friedrich”
In (pp. 127-43) Holmlund, Chris (ed. and introd.); Fuchs, Cynthia (ed. and introd.); McAfee, Lynda (filmography and videography) , Between the Sheets, in the Streets: Queer, Lesbian, Gay Documentary. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota P, 1997. x, 274 pp.. ( Minneapolis, MN: Visible Evidence 1 ). (1997)

Subject Headings:
Lesbian Teenagers
Teenage Girls
Gender Identity
Coming Out (Sexual orientation)

Alexandra (Sasha) Raskin 2007