Bi Furious Test

When we started the Scottish Bi+ Network, our first event was a film screening, and since then we’ve ended up doing a lot about bi+ representation in the media.


https://www.aceshowbiz.com/images/still/scott_pilgrim_vs_the_world43.jpgTwo of the questions we get asked a lot are: Why is representation so important? And what do we mean when we as a community ask for ‘good’ representation?

There’s been more and more mainstream films featuring bi+ characters, but when it comes to box office takings, there’s one film franchise that are in a league of their own.

Thor: Ragnrok is widely considered a bi+ film by those in the community, even though no-one is explicitly stated or shown in the film to be attracted to multiple genders.

One of the reasons it’s considered a bi+ film is its use of ‘bi lighting,’ where pink, purple and blue lights in the background of shots are used to subtly indicate that a character might be bi.

Is this ‘good’ representation?

If you’re bi+ and know what the colours signify, then it can be a subtle clue as to a character’s sexuality without having to spell it out.

But for those outside the bi+ community it’s just pretty colours. Explicit representation is the only way to show them that we exist, and let them see that we are more diverse than the stereotypes about us.

Which leads us to the hardest question of all; what is ‘good’ representation?

There is no single character or film that can fully represent the diversity of the bi+ community, but from talking to lots of bi+ people there’s a few things we all seem to agree on.

So, with all this in mind, we wanted to create a test that would help people judge the quality of bi+ representation in film.



The Bi Furious Test:

  1. The character’s bi+ identity is not revealed through cheating.
  1. The character is explicitly stated or shown to be attracted to multiple genders.
  1. The character is integral to the plot, and not just there to be ~sexy~ or for a throwaway joke, i.e. removing them would have a significant impact on the story.
  1. Their sexual orientation (and gender identity, if applicable) isn’t their only defining trait.
  1. The character is not later retconned to be gay/lesbian/straight.

In the last five years, we have been spoiled with a selection of films that pass the Bi Furious test, but there’s quite a few classics that were ahead of their time when it comes to bi+ representation.

Velvet Goldmine was a relative box office success back in 1993. Set in the 70s glam rock era, a time of rebellion and sexual fluidity.

Period dramas always pose a problem for bi+ representation, as a lot of the labels we use to describe our attraction to multiple genders didn’t exist or weren’t used in the same context back then. Even though it is set in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Colettemanges to explicitly show that she is attracted to multiple genders, leaving no doubt in the viewer’s mind that she would identify under the bi+ umbrella.

My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend set a new high bar for tv representation of bi+ people. Not only does the show use the word bisexual many times, but they have a full song and dance routine for Darryl coming out as bi, complete with saxophone solo.

TheFeels, a series of short films, released one a day for pride month, is the story of a bi guy with too many feels. As the episodes are only a few minutes long, it allows them to have such a varied cast of bi+ people that the series does feel like it shows the full diversity of the bi+ community.

Ironically the film that gives it name to the test, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, at first glance, wouldn’t qualify as good representation, because Ramona’s bisexuality seems to be there as a throwaway joke. But there wouldn’t be a story without her, and she has more to her character than her sexuality. Also, her fluffy jumper in the bi pride colours is a huge hint.

Like all of these simple representation tests, there is always room for debate, and even if a film is ‘good’ representation, it may not be to someone’s personal taste.

Leading the push for better bi+ characters seems to be coming from bi+ creators and actors, but there’s still a long way to go before all of the bi+ community sees themselves reflected on the big screen.

The small screen is rising to the challenge, with streaming services allowing more creators to get their work out, and combined with the rise of web series such as The Feels, we are starting to get the diverse representation we deserve.

To find more bi+ films and tv shows, check out our Bi+ Media Project https://forum.scottishbinet.org/wp-test/p/media.html or @BiMediaProject on twitter.

Bi+ at the fringe

File:St Cuthbert, Edinburgh, exterior.jpg

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is now underway and we are pleased to report that there are a number of Bi+ themed shows and Bi+ performers!
Below is a list of the shows we are aware of so far.

“A bisexual Bridget Jones for the online generation.”

Venue 33, Pleasance Courtyard, £11

“A spin on self-worth, sexuality and spin class.

Venue 300, Underbelly, George Square, £9
“What does it mean to be bisexual? No, actually, what does it mean? Are we doing it right? How can you tell? […] an hour of comedy as confusing as coming out.
Venue 239, PBH’s Free Fringe @ The Street, Free
Collapsible:
“Collapsible is a funny, furious new monologue about holding on in this collapsing world. For anyone who has ever felt crumbly.”
Venue 139, Assembly Roxy – Upstairs, £12 (£11 Concession)
 

Fempire: Cleo, Theo & Wu by Kirsten Vangsness:
“Careening through time and place on a heroine’s journey with the women who are more than what the HIStorians have you believe.”
Venue 20, Assembly Rooms, £10 (£9 Concession)
               
If you know of any more shows to add to this list let us know via social media:
We have not seen the shows listed above so cannot vouch for the standard of representation in each one, but if you have seen the shows let us know via our social media channels.
The List has details on many more queer themed shows taking place in Edinburgh.

A Very Bi+ Awards Season

Usually we’re lucky if we get one film a year, with Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name bringing award-winning bi+ representation to our screens in the past couple of years.
This year, twenty-bi-teen is living up to its name. The awards season is coming to a close with the Oscars tonight, and for the first time in a long while, there’s not just a singular film with bi+ representation, but a whole collection of them!
Bohemian Rhapsody is the story of Freddie Mercury, and Queen’s, meteoric rise to fame, culminating in their historical performance at Live Aid in 1985.
The three of us that founded Scottish Bi+ Network went to see this film together, and the gasp when he said the word ‘bisexual’ was audible in a full cinema screen. It’s so rare to hear a character use the word, and especially in film. (TV is definitely better when it comes to characters actually saying the word.)
Rami Malek won a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury, and is also nominated for Best Leading Actor at the Oscars. In addition, the film has five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, two wins at the Golden Globes, plus two wins and five nominations at the BAFTAs.
The Favourite is a period drama about the reign of Queen Anne, her health failing, and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.
It’s a beautifully shot film, with all the surreal absurdity that people have come to expect from a Yorgos Lanthimos film. The film focuses on three complex and fascinating women, with three exceptional actresses bringing them to life. Being a period drama, no-one says the word bisexual, but the character of Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) is shown to have relationships with women and men.
The film has a whopping ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Leading Actress for Olivia Coleman, and Best Supporting Actress for Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. As if that wasn’t enough Olivia Coleman won Best Leading Actress at the Golden Globes, with another four nominations including two in the Best Supporting Actress category. Add to that five nominations and seven wins at the BAFTAs, including Best Supporting Actress for Rachel Weisz, Best Leading Actress, and Outstanding British Film of the Year.
Colette is the true story of Gabrielle Colette, who is a ghost writer for her husband’s novels, but after their success, Colette fights to be recognised as the author of the books, challenging the gender stereotypes of her era.
It’s refreshing to see a character who is unapologetic about their attraction to multiple genders. Colette (Kiera Knightley) is shown persuing relationships with both men and women throughout the film, including a relationship with a character who could be described as non-binary by today’s standards. Again, because it’s a period film, no-one uses the words bi, trans, or non-binary, which either didn’t exist then, or weren’t used the way we currently do. There are two trans actors in the supporting cast, and a sense of queerness and challenging gender norms is woven throughout the whole film.
It’s an independent film, so it hasn’t caught the eye of the big award ceremonies, but the film has four nominations from the British Independent Film Awards.
Disobedience follows Ronit (Rachel Weisz) as she returns to her Orthodox Jewish community that shunned her for her attraction to a female childhood friend. Once home, their passions reignite as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality.
So, my favourite thing of this year so far is definitely Rachel Weisz and the wonderfully complex bi+ characters that she’s portrayed. The film itself is understated, focusing on the characters, and brought to life by the powerful performances from the three leads. The chemistry between Ronit and Esti (Rachel McAdams) is beautifully portrayed, and their passion shines through in every scene.
The film is a low budget independent film, so it’s not on the radar of the big award ceremonies, but the film has one win and four nominations from the British Independent Film Awards.
Lizzie is a thriller based on the infamous 1892 murders of the Borden family.
The film focuses on Lizzie Borden (Chloë Sevigny), and her relationship with the maid, Bridget (Kristen Stewart, who is openly bisexual), in the period leading up to the murder of her parents. The film is bloody, and it deals with some heavy themes, but the two lead actresses do a convincing job of bringing the characters to life and showing the societal constraints that women lived under at that time. Lizzie is shown to have no interest in men, but it is stated in the text at the end of the film that Bridget went on to have a relationship with a man. It’s possibly because Bridget’s character is played by Kristen Stewart that I personally read her as bi.
Another relatively low budget independent film, nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
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Honourable mention: A Star is Born is the story of a musician who helps a young singer find fame, while age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.
Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the film. As far as I am aware, the film itself doesn’t have bi+ characters or themes, but it stars Lady Gaga, who is openly bisexual, and she has been nominated for Best Leading Actress at the Oscars, the Golden Globes, and the BAFTAs. And that’s in addition to her two wins and three nominations at the Grammys.
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And finally, for those of you that prefer the comfort of your own sofa to the big screen, Netflix has you covered.
Velvet Buzzsaw is a horror thriller about an unknown artist discovered after his death, but a supernatural force takes vengeance against those who profited from his work.
Stylish and fun, Jake Gyllenhaal is no stranger to playing bi+ characters, and he’s utterly mesmerising as Morf Vandewalt.
Films on streaming services very rarely get included in awards ceremonies, but it’s a fun watch if you like horror films, and don’t mind a little blood and gore.
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Even with all the bi+ characters that are making their way to our screens this year, very few actually use the word, and there’s a lack of male characters that are shown to be attracted to multiple genders.
There’s also still a notable lack of trans, non-binary, and BAME bi+ representation, as well as films that don’t focus on same-sex relationships (usually female).
This increasing trend of bi+ visibility is a step in the right direction, and I hope we don’t have to wait too long for the day when all of the bi+ community gets to see themselves represented on screen.
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For more information about the films, and for content/trigger warnings, please see the relevant IMDb page:
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Colette
Disobedience
Lizzie
A Star Is Born
Velvet Buzzsaw

The Bi Life Review

I’m going to admit that dating shows aren’t usually my thing, and I was worried that The Bi Life would be over-the-top reality tv at its worst.

But I’m happy to say that not only is it a dating show that I could watch without cringing, but it’s also some of the best bi+ representation that I’ve seen on tv.

Hosted by Shane Janek (and their drag queen alter ego Courtney Act), who is openly pansexual, as well as genderfluid and polyamorous. The fact that the host of the show understands what it’s like lends humanity to the show, and stops it from feeling like the freak show it could so easily have been.

It opens with Courtney talking about how half of all young people in Britain identify as something other than completely straight or completely gay, according to stats from YouGov in 2015. These stats are probably not surprising to the bi+ community as we are seeing a rise in young people identify as bi+, but to the rest of the public, it may be the first time that they’ve considered that people who are attracted to multiple genders not only exist, but are a significant part of the population.

The show is a mix of fly-on-the-wall style segments when the housemates go on individual dates, with the rest of the housemates watching from the luxury of the Barcelona villa. There’s also parties and social events where everyone can mingle with the lovely guests, including some of their dates. But the show also allows the housemates the chance to talk about their experiences in their own words.

And it’s not just dating and sex that they’re always talking about. There’s a lot of discussion about assumptions and misconceptions about bi+ people, and how this has impacted them and their relationships.

It doesn’t feel forced or scripted, and there’s something lovely about the housemates all supporting each other on their journey to figure out the complicated world of dating and relationships.

As I write this, I’ve only seen two episodes, and it’s been nice to see that the housemates have all bonded quickly. For a lot of the housemates, it appears to be the first time that they’ve ever had a network of other bi+ people that they can talk to honestly.

A lot of the housemates spoke about not having the opportunity to pursue same-sex relationships in their everyday lives, and how it can be difficult when everyone assumes that they’re straight.
Also, seeing men talk openly about their feelings, is a change from the (very few) dating shows that I’ve ever seen, where guys only ever talk about what they look for in a woman in terms of physical attributes.

The diversity of the housemates is refreshing to see, not just in terms of race, but also personality-wise. Often dating shows encourage and seek out extroverts, so it’s nice to see a mix of people; from the shy Michael, who has never been on a date before appearing on the show and is looking to get some experience dating so “he knows who’s right for him,” to Mariella who is looking for a long-term relationship, with marriage and kids.

Unlike a lot of popular dating shows with housemates, there’s also no prize money, and I think that helps to create a supportive and friendly atmosphere, as there’s no worrying about whether the other housemates are going to betray them and grab the prize money for themselves. Although a nice holiday in a Spanish villa, with a pool and good company, would be more than enough of a reward for most people.

Personally, I think the success of the show comes from the fact that the housemates being attracted to multiple genders isn’t the sole focus of the show, they’re shown as real and complex people looking for friendship and love, and they’re helping to break down stereotypes and misconceptions in the process.

The Bi Life
airs at 9 p.m. on Thursday, channel E! and E! HD. Previous episodes are available to view through catch up tv.

Review of The Bisexual

Ask almost any bi person what they want in a character, and they will tell you that they want them to say the word, to have a character that can’t have their bisexuality explained away as ‘just a phase’ or a ‘stepping stone to gayness’.
Desiree Akhavan’s new comedy drama has done one better, it not only has a lead character that uses the word, it’s also the title of the show.

Picture of Leila (played by Desiree Akhavan) and Gabe (played by Brian Gleeson)

The Bisexual follows the story of Leila (Desiree Akhavan) an Iranian-American woman living in London, trying to figure out where she fits in a world that only sees straight and gay. After breaking up with her long-term girlfriend, Leila ends up moving in with Gabe (Brian Gleeson), a writer whose only published novel is called Test(icular). His attitudes towards sexuality are exactly what you would expect from a straight guy, but he’s also one of the few that supports Leila as she struggles to come out, since the rest of her social circle, including best friend Deniz (Saskia Chana), are all lesbians.
The first episode is more drama than comedy, and it heads straight to the heart of the issue, with Leila’s friends describing bisexual women as “sex tourists” and the obvious discomfort and awkwardness that Leila feels is eased by Gabe trying to explain that his girlfriend is bisexual, only for that to be dismissed as drunk girls performing for the male gaze.
It’s a painful scene to watch, and a situation that a few too many of us will recognise, but it sets the tone for the rest of the series.
(If you haven’t binge watched all six episodes already, or twice like me, there are spoilers ahead.)
The show hits its stride after a couple of episodes, showing the awkward reality of dating in the age of online apps. Including the fact that a lot of dating apps have finally realised that bisexuals not only exist, but they might actually want to date.
Leila is her own worst enemy, trying to hide her new boyfriend from her lesbian best friend. It’s cringe comedy at it’s best, or should that be worst, and it’s no surprise that the relationship doesn’t work out.
We then see her blurting out, “I’m bisexual,” on a date like she’s at a support meeting, as though it’s something to be ashamed of, and it’s the last time that we see her using a dating app.
The show doesn’t pull its punches, and while people looking for escapism might flinch at the biphobia dealt with in the show, unfortunately, it’s a very real reflection of what people think, and say, about bisexuals.
Gabe seems to live with his foot continually in his mouth, and although he tries to support Leila, he has a lot of misconceptions about bisexuals.
“You don’t have to lock yourself down to anyone… there’s so many people that you’re attracted to, because of that reason monogamy’s not possible for you.”
Watching Gabe awkwardly try and explain bisexuality to an actual bisexual person is enough to make the audience cringe on Leila’s behalf, and her outrage is summed up perfectly in one line, “Why are you talking to me like I’m a different species from you?”
It’s painfully true, and watching Leila walk off, leaving Gabe alone waiting for his Uber, feels like a small victory.
My favourite episode is the flashback to 2005, Leila has moved to London to study, and even without her sexuality as a factor, she’s still the odd one out. Lurking in the student bar, she tries to talk to people, desperate to fit in somewhere.
And then her future best friend Deniz walks in. Leila rescues Deniz from a guy who is obsessed with her, and Leila ends up telling her that she’s a lesbian, even though we see her flirting with a guy only moments before. Deniz’s relief and happiness when she realises that she’s not alone is a feel good moment for her character, but what is freeing for Deniz, puts Leila into a different closet.
It shows how powerful labels can be, providing a sense of community and solidarity, but only if they’re the right label for a person.
Overall, I enjoyed it, and the humanity of the characters shines through in the performances from the three main characters. Saskia Chana in particular does an outstanding job of portraying Deniz as a fully fleshed out character, when the role could have so easily been reduced to the friend whose only purpose is witty one-liners. I think a lot of people were expecting more comedy, but as a drama, it shows the complexities of being bisexual in a world that doesn’t quite understand us as anything other than stereotypes.
Personally, I would have liked to see more bi+ characters in the show, as I think they missed an opportunity to show the diversity of bi+ people. I hope that if there’s a second season we will get to see Leila reaching out and connecting with more of the community.

The Bisexual airs at 10 p.m. Wednesday on Channel 4, and all episodes are available to watch now on All 4.
Image copyright Channel 4/The Bisexual.

Bi+ Representation In The Media

Our Bi+ Media Project


There is a distinct lack of representation of Bi+ characters in mainstream media, even more scarce is good representation.

We are carrying out a review of what media is out there, with the aim of highlighting good examples that people may have missed. Primarily this is looking at TV and Film, however we will also provide links to written fiction, music and web content where we come across it.

Also to be discussed is the reasons why there is such a shortage of representation and why it is so difficult to find the bisexual characters that are out there.

There is often controversy over films being labelled as Bi-films; Is it Bi enough? If they end up in a same sex relationship, doesn’t that make it a gay film? Is queer-coding enough? But no-one used the word Bisexual!

The lists below will include many films that some would discount, however, they are included to be discussed further as the project continues.

Recent developments have seen an increase in the number of TV characters labelling themselves as bisexual, along with an increase in the number of Bi actors. Films seem to be lagging behind in this aspect. 

Links, Lists and Resources

Below is the start of a list of existing resources related to Bisexual Media.

I have set up IMDB lists for Bisexual Films, Bisexual TV and Bisexual Directors building on a number of resources that are already out there. As and when I watch (or re-watch) the films listed I intend to provide mini-reviews from a bi-rep standpoint.

Bi.org: The Unicorn Scale – a weekly review of Bisexuality in Films or Television series. Listing what is good/bad representation. Films/series are rated from 1 to 4 unicorns.

BFI: 10 Great Bisexual Films – Their selection that “brings together some of the most interesting films in which characters enjoy sex with men and women”

The Feels – An online series of short films by Tim Manley: “Short moments in the life of a bisexual guy with way too many feels”

Shondaland: 3 Things TV Gets Wrong About Bisexuality, and 3 It’s Started Getting Right An article on how things are improving in US television.

glaad.org – Publications on LGBTQ representation in film US television and media.