Stud Life Review – A Stunning Snapshot of Black Butch Life

Stud Life is a stunning tribute to Black butches. The debut feature of Campbell X, this film is a story about friendship, love, and community set in modern-day London. JJ (T’Nia Miller) is a photographer whose dapper good looks make her popular with the ladies – resulting in plenty of fun and more than a little trouble. Together with her best friend Seb (Kyle Treslove), she runs a wedding photography business that just about makes ends meet.

JJ and Seb’s friendship defined by few boundaries and much love. Their blood relations are conspicuously absent throughout the film’s highs and lows. From the opening scene, when JJ wakes up to find Seb curled up in her bed yet again, it’s clear that they’re family to one another.

JJ is a Black butch lesbian, and Seb a white gay man. While this partnership might not make sense at first glance, JJ – who is attracted to femmes – doesn’t hang out with other studs to avoid competition. In a messy sort of way, JJ and Seb work well together; two people tied by their differences as much as the things they share. Through their kinship, director Campbell X shines a light on the best possibilities of gay and lesbian community. This closeness is tested when JJ falls for Elle, a sultry femme with more than one secret.

Stud Life embodies the best of indie possibilities for lesbian film. The plot hinges on a romance between two Black women, and the main character is butch – two forms of representation that are often missing in mainstream productions. And it is refreshing to see lesbian sexuality outside of the male gaze, the default lens through which Hollywood shows our lives.

Although films like Carol and Blue is the Warmest Colour were in many ways groundbreaking, both were directed by men. And it shows. Stud Life offers an authentic snapshot of lesbian sexuality. Love scenes achieve a level of sensuality that is lacking when lesbian desire is defined by men. In other words, this film is hot!

In many ways, Stud Life defies genre. Depictions of gay nightlife – complete with drugs, clubs, and hookups – are awash with knowing humor. And the scene when two butches fight over a femme, so close yet so far from heterosexual rituals, is comic gold. Although the love story between JJ and Elle is central to the plot, it resists being read as a romantic comedy.

Stud Life takes an unflinching look at homophobic violence. It is, at points, uncomfortable to watch. An unbearable tension builds as JJ is beaten and hunted down by a pack of young men who feel threatened by the fact that she carries off masculinity with far greater flair. An idyllic picnic in the park becomes the stuff of nightmares when Seb is assaulted by the man he met online.

Through JJ, Campbell X demonstrates how women who are white and gender-conforming can be a risk to women who are neither of those things. From questioning her presence in the female toilet to treating her as some kind of sexual experiment, this Othering by feminine white women leaves JJ vulnerable.

Although it’s difficult to witness, this acknowledgment of homophobia, and how it shapes different characters’ relationships with public space, is what makes Stud Life ring true. Just as in life, there is no easy resolution to these traumatic experiences – only the solace characters find in knowing they will be seen and held by other misfits.

Stud Life is a celebration of love in all its forms. From a marriage of convenience, to stop the deportation of an Iranian gay man, to polyamorous women getting married in the company of their various partners, JJ’s clients are a reminder that there are so many different ways to love. And in the lives of JJ and Seb, we’re offered a taste of something that is still too often denied to lesbian and gay audiences – a happy ending.

Stud Life is now available to watch on Amazon Video.