Netflix Marketing Straight Love Films as Lesbian Romance

Mr. Roosevelt, a non-lesbian movie

When I’m in search of sapphic stories, I do what any self-respecting lesbian with a Netflix account does: type lesbian into the search bar. Let’s watch Mr. Roosevelt, I think. It’s one of the first films Netflix lists as lesbian, and that high ranking probably means it’s good. Plus, Mr. Roosevelt is marked as “Romantic Lesbian Films”, “Lesbian Sex and Sexuality”, and “Lesbian Independent Films” – the golden trio of sapphic cinema. From what I can gather, it’s a quirky drama about a comedian who moves back in with her ex-boyfriend and falls for his current girlfriend. The promotional poster shows two women making intense eye contact, hands clasped around a plant pot. Perfect.

I press play. The film opens with the world’s second most depressing hook up. Emily, the comedian, sucking a dude’s dick while he scrolls through his phone and posts a joke to his Facebook account. Not the best start, I think, but maybe they included this scene to show how much more fun Emily has having sex with women. I persist.

After finding out that her cat – Mr. Roosevelt – is in trouble, Emily takes an emergency flight and stays with her ex-boyfriend. All traces of her are gone from the home they shared. And a new girlfriend, Celeste, has moved in. There’s an intensity to Emily’s conversations with Celeste that is entirely missing with the ex. They have chemistry. Celeste throws a brunch for a dead cat. She’s amazing at DIY. It could be the perfect lesbian love story. But it doesn’t happen.

Out for dinner with Celeste and the dull ex, Emily quite literally bumps into a waitress. Jen is ballsy and charismatic. She greets Emily by lifting her bodily from the floor in a bear hug. Her wardrobe regularly features check flannel shirts. She’s the drummer in a rock band. This romance could be so sweet. But it’s not to be. Emily and Jen share a brief kiss as a joke. Not long afterwards, Emily’s fucking a sleazy stoner dude in the front of his pickup truck. It’s the world’s first most depressing hook up. And such a waste, as Emily has more chemistry with Jen than her ex and both hook ups combined.

As Mr Roosevelt coasts towards a conclusion, I’m confused. The fifteen remaining minutes are not enough time to fit in another hook up, never mind a nuanced depiction of lesbian love. And then it hits me. I’ve just wasted an hour and a half of my life on heterosexual nonsense. Actually, Mr. Roosevelt is a pretty decent film – it’s funny, and contains a lot of insight into just how precarious Millennial lives can be. If I hadn’t found it under false pretenses, I’d probably have enjoyed the movie. But the only reason I chose to watch Mr. Roosevelt was because Netflix tagged it as lesbian.

Mr. Roosevelt has no lesbian romance. It has no lesbian sex, or reflections on lesbian sexuality. Yes, it’s an indie film – but a resoundingly straight one. Either somebody at Netflix HQ didn’t bother watching the movie before classifying it, or they chose queerbaiting to bump up viewing figures. I suspect the latter. Further down the lesbian tag, other films listed include 365 Days and 50 Shades of Grey, two films that romanticize abusive heterosexual relationships. Some of the films Netflix markets as lesbian are the polar opposite of being so.

In many ways, streaming platforms have improved lesbian representation. By commissioning lesbian stories, by including lesbian characters in films and TV shows, by featuring lesbian comics in specials, by making existing lesbian films more widely and cheaply available than ever before, the platform Netflix offers has been a game changer. And with ground-breaking documentaries like A Secret Love, revolutionary films like The Half of It, Netflix has provided us with some of the best lesbian representation in the 21st century. So, it’s especially disappointing that they’re marketing straight love stories as lesbian.