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Wednesday, Aimée and Jaguar

Aimée and Jaguaris a tragic movie that follows the lives of two German women during World War II who fall in love, despite many factors playing against their love and their ability to be together. Movies are excellent way to portray historical events for a wide audience. The appeal of Aimée and Jaguar, however, seems to be that it centers around two women in love. In my opinion, the point of this film was not to educate viewers on LGBTQ history, but to sexualize a part of history that is often correlated with phrases such as “Never Again” and “Worst Genocide in History”. Aimée and Jaguar did a good job with critics: according to RottenTomatoes.com critics gave it a solid 90% and audience gave it an 87%, which raises question of the greater audience. The majority of the critics were men (twenty-eight men, seventeen women), which allowed me to question just how much of this film was enjoyed through the male-gaze and how much was enjoyed for historical accuracy (or inaccuracy). That being said, there are two main reasons that this film simply didn’t work for me. There is not much to be said about lesbians in history, and women and lesbians are often over and hyper sexualized in mainstream media for the pleasure of the viewer; resulting in poor representation of the group in media.

I must add the fact that it took a tremendous amount of effort to find a piece of media that met two pieces of criteria; one, that it took place in a historical setting, and two, that it followed the lives of lesbians. This leads me to opening up the discussion about accessibility and how difficult it is to find accessible forms of media that have lesbians as main characters. In order to watch the film Aimée and Jaguar(with accurate subtitles), my only options were illegally downloading it (less than favourable) or purchasing it for download on Amazon.com or iTunes. One of the main ways that television and film are accessed today are through various streaming sites, and although I searched through Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services I came out empty handed.

There is not much to be said about lesbians in history, particularly lesbians in the twentieth century. There are many possible explanations for this, including the reason that it is usually only other LGBTQ people who show interest. In Lesbianism, Transvestitism, and the Nazi State: A Microhistory of a Gestapo Investigation, 1939-1943, Laurie Marhoefer explores the ways in which lesbians were persecuted by the Gestapo during World War II. The article follows one woman in particular who is investigated by the Gestapo over the course of four years. In the article, Marhoefer explains that lesbians were not persecuted by the Nazi state simply because they were lesbians (in contrast to gay men). In a time where we now recognize the pink triangle as a symbol of violence against gay men, there is little to be said with regards to lesbians in history. Movies such as Aimée and Jaguarshould then open up this discussion in an easily consumable fashion, however I would argue that it actually makes the conversation much more difficult. The reality is, consumers do not want to watch a film about lesbians in history that is more educational than it is sexy.

It is important to talk about lesbians in history in a way that isn’t revolving around sex and tragedy. It is common fact that women portrayed in mainstream media are hypersexualized and objectified for the viewer’s pleasure. Taking this into consideration, lesbians are even more hypersexualized and objectified in mainstream media to cater to the male-gaze. Men can be considered at the top of the list of consumers of media (or purchasers of media) and what is hotter than two chicks making out while Nazis are coming after them? I feel as though this act of hypersexualizing lesbians in mainstream media is what gives lesbians a bad reputation. If I was running from the Gestapo during Nazi rule the last thing I’d be thinking about is which girl I’m going to have a hot make-out session with, but instead, like any other person, I’m thinking about my security and my safety. The truth is, the lives of lesbians are not always sexy, and in fact fairly similar to those who are heterosexual. In addition to this hypersexualizing, the women of the film are conventionally beautiful; appealing to societal norms of what women in their twenties and thirties should look like. It is because of this that I am critical of the movie’s representation of lesbians (and women in general).

According to a study done in 2007, “…adolescents’ exposure to sexual media content was linked with stronger beliefs that women are sexual objects. More specifically and in response to our first research question, the results showed that the nature of this association can be described best as hierarchical”. The sexualisation of women in media is a battle that aids in easily objectifying women and portraying them as less than human. The problem is only heightened when it is lesbian women who are being portrayed. To equate lesbians as sexual objects reaffirms the notion that lesbians are not to be treated with the same amount of respect and dignity as heterosexual women. A common narrative when discussing lesbians in media is that “any representation is good representation”, however I would argue that Aimée and Jaguardoes more harm than good when portraying lesbians. Its sexualisation idea of lesbians in the time frame of World War II unrealistically portrays what it actually looked like.Laurie Marhoefer strays away from this harmful representation by showing pictures of what the queer woman she was following around looked like (very masculine presenting, including a short haircut and masculine clothing). This androgyny is not shown in Aimée and Jaguar, where both main characters are very feminine presenting, appealing more to the male audience. What I am arguing is not to say that two feminine presenting women could not be together, however the film automatically rules out any possibility that one (or both) party could be more masculine presenting.

The tagline of the film, “Love Transcends Death”, portrays an unbreakable bond between the two main characters. This bond, however, is constantly challenged by the circumstances around them. The film portrays adultery and infidelity as sexy, defying, and beautiful. It takes an assumption that many lesbians in the twentieth century were simply closeted and bound by heterosexual marriage. My question is, why can’t we simply portray two women in love, without all odds against them? The answer is likely because there is no dollar value to a happy ending between this sort of romance.

Historical inaccuracy is abundant in mainstream media, but the purpose of mainstream media is not always to be historically accurate. It is to be entertaining and easily consumed. In my opinion the only people that historically accurate media would be fully endorsed by is historians, and in some cases, people who have a track record of being misrepresented in media. If you’re looking for a tragic love story about two star crossed lovers, I would definitely go for The Notebookbefore I would watch Aimée and Jaguar. LGBTQ+ people don’t need more films about how sexy and taboo their love is, they need accurate and fair representation. Aimée and Jaguar was another tragic love story between two people whose love is portrayed as tragedy. Much like many other television shows and films with lesbians as main or central characters (Blue is the Warmest Colour, High Art, Grey’s Anatomy), the characters either wind up dead or separated, if not both. Even films that have gay men as main characters (Brokeback Mountain, Weekend), the endings are more often than not tragic and distasteful. LGBTQ+ history is a topic that remains vastly underexplored, and media plays an important role in delivering either facts or fiction about LGBTQ+ history. Give me a film about a lonely wife and a Jewish woman, and I will raise you with criticism. Give me a film about a masculine presenting, self-declared lesbian in Berlin in the 1940s and I will be happy.

Bibliography

“Aimée and Jaguar”. Rottentomatoes.com. Accessed April 13th, 2018. https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/aimee_and_jaguar/reviews/?page=3&sort=

Marhoefer, Laurie. “Lesbianism, Transvestism, and the Nazi State: A Microhistory of a Gestapo Investigation, 1939-1943.” American Historical Review.Vol 121 #4 (October 2016): 1167-1195.

Peter, J., and P. M. Valkenburg. 2007. “Adolescents’ Exposure to a Sexualized Media Environment and their Notions of Women as Sex Objects”. Sex Roles56 (5/6): 381-95.

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Sheila McManus

Professor, Department of History

University of Lethbridge

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