Anna Margarita Albelo breaks down the cinematic fourth wall in the absolutely magnificent Hooters—or what Sarah Schulman has rightly called “the best lesbian film no one has ever seen.”
Posing as investigative reporter “Anna La Chocha,” Albelo documents the collaborative process—as well as the politics—behind the making of Cheryl Dunye’s 2010 melodrama, The OWLS, the screenplay of which was written by Schulman. The film’s “Older, Wiser Lesbians,” debatably, aren’t wiser at all. In fact, they are stuck in a weird liminal terrain between a mainstream culture that doesn’t accept them and a younger, “Millennial” generation that thinks they’re “so 2000-and-late.” The OWLS’ “over-the-top plot,” Schulman explains, is a metaphor for the intergenerational strife between older lesbians and younger lesbians (who, Jack Halberstam observes, don’t really regard themselves as lesbian).
Schulman elaborates the plot, which culminates in the four lead OWLs (played by lesbian icons Cheryl Dunye, Lisa Gornick, Guinevere Turner, and VS Brodie) killing the younger queer/lesbian, Cricket (Deak Evangenikos), during a discussion with Turner about the screenplay:
“Our generation is doomed…. We want the next generation to love us and respect us, and they don’t…. They have contempt for us, and we resent them. And they’re going to be brutal to us, and we’re going to kill them.”
As our intrepid reporter, daring to dive masochistically into a potentially explosive situation arguably inherent to any “lesbian collaborative process,” Albelo as La Chocha provides the audience both moments of comic respite and self-reflection to help frame some of the very heady, and sometimes overdetermined, discussions. This telescopic method—of asking questions about her own being/subjectivity/identity and then thinking outward about a larger community—is one of Albelo’s signatures, as evinced in this year’s fantastic Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf? (hitting NYC’s Newfest next week).
These moments are figured most notably in the documentary’s bookends: the beginning Hitchcock-inspired dream sequence, where La Chocha searches for answers about what type of lesbian she is (“Why did I get all those strange haircuts?”) and how she can make the perfect lesbian film (“Should I write about my first love? My first cat?”), and the final self-reflexive scene where she defines what it means to be an OWL for her.
La Chocha posits that “what makes us feel old is not age but nostalgia.” The question is, in regard to the intergenerational strife between OWLS and younger lesbians, what precisely is this nostalgia for? Schulman explained that “people who had integrity about their sexuality” in the ‘70s and ‘80s, by living life “out and proud,” paid a professional price and were, and continue to be, relegated to the “margins forever.” Is it possibly a nostalgia for feeling “relevant,” as only invincible, naive twenty-somethings do? Is it a capitalist nostalgia for being the “prime consumer market”? I mean, no one cares about the aging lesbian consumer—lesbians don’t own the Pink Dollar, anyway.
It is certainly not a nostalgia for some kind of lesbian utopia, as even Guinevere Turner remarked that she “didn’t have mentors,” and that she “made fun of older lesbians when she was younger.”
As someone born in between the X and Y generations in 1980, I couldn’t get enough of Albelo’s documentary. The Taylor Swiftian “Feeling 22” part of me completely understands Deak’s lamentation about bitter old lesbians: “it makes me afraid to get old,” she says, to which Dunye and the other OWL leads chuckle. I mean, if you came out, willingly or not, in the ‘70s, you cannot hold me accountable for the consequences of that coming out. The moral ethic of Christian pity means nothing to me; I feel no ethical obligation for the consequences of your life decisions.
At the same time, a part of me could not contain my overly dramatic, Tina-Fey-masterpiece-eyerolls every time one of the younger queers working on the film criticized The L Word or “lesbian identity” as being passé. The resentment OWLS feel for Millennials is born out of the latter’s arrogance; it’s as if the former could be collectively embodied in Amy Poehler’s Baby Mama character and are dying to shout, “Bitch, you don’t know my life!”
There has also been a terribly unfortunate misreading and misappropriation of Judith Butler’s notion of “performativity” by Millennials that has resulted wildly a-logical semiotics—need I mention the super-eyeroll inducing New York Times piece at the beginning year about the concept of “bi-gender”? It’s like a bastardized version of the town/gown split, with everyone—gay, straight, cis, trans, or other—outside the Golden Millennial Generation having no clue what the fuck they’re talking about. Halberstam, who acted as a consultant on The OWLS and who appeared in the documentary, offered a judiciously crafted response to this queer philistinism: “none of us make our own categories. We live in a world that categorizes us…. So that fantasy of being beyond categories is some liberal notion that you can be freer than you actually can.” From which I extract the need, for younger queers, to take stock of their extremely privileged twenty-something invincibility—fueled by their trust funds and general sense of entitlement as the “Me Generation”—and understand that the queer bubble they live in, including all the wonderful language that circulates within said bubble, holds no weight in the outside—90% hetero—world. (But anyone who needs to have a job or five to live knows that heteronormative society, including the straight, white men who employ you, could care less about your many-layered queer identity.)
The brilliance of Hooters is that it leaves you wanting more—more debate, more reflection, and more collaboration. Albelo shows us that there is much care, consideration, as well as a ton of “lesbian processing,” in the making of lesbian cinema.