What is up with American filmmakers’ (and television show-makers’) obsession with “sensationalizing” their material and marketing campaigns with lesbians? You probably know what I’m talking about, it’s not a new phenomenon. There is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to cataloging the number of times television shows have used a “lesbian kiss episode” to boost ratings during sweeps. The most recent place I noticed this spectacle was in a trailer for David Fincher’s American adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, based on the book by the late Stieg Larsson. Watch, and let’s discuss:
So there’s voice-over by Advokat Bjurman saying “how many partners have you had in the last month? How many of those have been–men?” while we see Lisbeth in a club hooking up with a woman. The very next lines are Bjurman assuring Lisbeth that she will have control of her money “once you learn to be–sociable. Let’s start with me. You know what to do.” It’s clear he intends forced sex. Yes, that’s what happens in the book, he forces her after asking a barrage of invasive questions about her sex life, but the way this is cut in the trailer it makes it look like she’s being victimized in this way at least partially because she prefers women to men. Also, in the book Bjurman doesn’t ask about her partner preference, he asks if she likes different positions.
Then of course when Blomkvist first meets Lisbeth in real life, barging into her apartment to her utter shock, there is a girl in Lisbeth’s bed. Blomkvist says, “Put some clothes on, get rid of your girlfriend.” Blomkvist then tells a sullen-looking Lisbeth, “I need you to help me catch a killer of women,” a proposition that gets her to look up with newly lit interest. Because, of course lesbians would be down with hating on women-killers!
I would say there’s another bit of dialogue that hints at this picture the trailer is painting, towards the beginning when Lisbeth is asked if there is anything she chose to leave out of the report on Blomkvist. This one is more subtle, but when she is describing his relationship with his co-editor and says, “Sometimes he pleasures her, not often enough in my opinion,” it seems to wink at the fact that Lisbeth herself prefers a certain amount of “pleasuring.” If you’ve seen the uncensored version of this trailer, you know the “pleasure” referenced doesn’t require male genitalia. There is also a quick shot of Lisbeth kissing a woman, (I think it’s the same one from the bar and her bedroom), towards the end (3:06).
I’m just saying, the way this trailer is cut, it makes it look like much of Lisbeth’s driving force, identity, and motivation has to do with her being lesbian. Still, maybe none of that seems over the top to the average movie trailer viewer. But let’s compare this depiction of Lisbeth with what Larsson actually penned in regards to her sexuality. He’s pretty straightforward, and there’s really no guesswork. (The Evil Fingers are a clique she sometimes hangs out with.):
Salander awoke with a start from a dreamless slumber. She felt faintly sick. She did not have to turn her head to know that Mimmi had left already for work, but her scent still lingered in the stuffy air of the bedroom. Salander had drunk too many beers the night before with the Evil Fingers at the Mill. Mimmi had turned up not long before closing time and come home with her and into bed.
Salander–unlike Mimmi–had never thought of herself as a lesbian. She had never brooded over whether she was straight, gay, or even bisexual. She did not give a damn about labels, did not see that it was anyone else’s business whom she spent her nights with. If she had to choose, she preferred guys–and they were in the lead, statistically speaking. The only problem was finding a guy who was not a jerk and one who was also good in bed; Mimmi was a sweet compromise, and she turned Salander on. They had met in a beer tent at the Pride Festival a year ago, and Mimmi was the only person that Salander had introduced to the Evil Fingers. But it was just a casual affair for both of them. It was nice lying close to Mimmi’s warm, soft body, and Salander did not mind waking up with her and their having breakfast together.
That excerpt was from the beginning of chapter 18. It’s literally one page out of the 644 pages in my paperback version, so .1% of the story, in other words. Whereas in this 3 minute, 46 second trailer, even at the most conservative calculation that only includes the unmistakable lesbian references, (five seconds of Advokat Bjurman questioning her partner preference, two seconds of Blomkvist saying “get rid of your girlfriend,” one second shot of Lisbeth kissing Mimmi at 3:06 mark) equals 3% of the total trailer time. If you include all the scenes that I point out above, you get 24 seconds, or 10% of the total trailer time, (one hundred times the amount on the same topic in the book), spent establishing Lisbeth as a lesbian man-hater.
Lisbeth is not an interesting character you might want to watch in a movie because she might sometimes sleep with women. She’s compelling because she’s so thorough in her research, so highly skilled with computers, yet so unable or unwilling to build normal functioning human relationships. She’s tenacious and very tough, yet physically tiny and vulnerable. She has a photographic memory. She wants to know everyone else’s secrets but doesn’t want anyone to know hers. She doesn’t trust authorities. She believes in exacting her own revenge, or revenge on behalf of other people if she thinks they’ve been wronged and she has a way to hurt their torturer. She wears black and has multiple piercings, but it isn’t because she hates men. She doesn’t hate men. She hates bastards.
Why can’t the trailer portray her as the complex and interesting person that she is, instead of spending so much time focusing on and expanding on just one of her attributes, that really has nothing to do with the plot? Why is this an accepted marketing technique, anyway? I mean did you see the way Jennifer’s Body or Black Swan or that season 4 episode of Heroes where Claire kisses her roommate were advertised? You’d see articles, interviews, and pictures popping up everywhere. Like this quote, by Natalie Portman last year in Entertainment Weekly(she’s talking about Black Swan):
“Everyone was so worried about who was going to want to see this movie,” Portman says. “I remember them being like, ‘How do you get guys to a ballet movie? How do you get girls to a thriller?’ And the answer is a lesbian scene. Everyone wants to see that.”
So is it safe to assume that the editors of this trailer took a similar marketing approach? Make people think there will be lesbian sex so everyone goes to the movie? Look, this isn’t a rant against gay or lesbian content in movies. Gay characters can be complex, shallow, relate-able, lovable, despicable, funny, sad, pivotal, or inconsequential, just like any other kind of character. What I find annoying is the tendency in mainstream movies to include lesbianism almost like it’s a gimmick, unrelated to the characters’ journeys or the plot, and then market the hell out of that scene, as if it’s what the movie is really all about. I guess it’s not really any different than the way movie trailers and TV spots always include that shot of the hot girl in her bikini, or slinky dress, or short shorts.
I probably wouldn’t have had a problem with this Dragon Tattoo trailer if I hadn’t been familiar with the source material. If it had been just another original movie, I would have accepted their portrayal of Lisbeth Salander, gone to the movie, and then maybe wondered afterwards why the trailer emphasized her sexuality so much when it wasn’t really a relevant or motivating factor for her. (Unless, maybe in this version it is? Also, I haven’t yet read the other two books in the Millennium series, so maybe I don’t have a completely accurate picture of Lisbeth myself.) As it is, I just don’t understand why the adapters behind this American version felt that there wasn’t already enough intriguing, sensational material in the book, and resorted to the tiresome “Sex sells! Lesbian sex sells even better!” strategy. I think it’s even more annoying in this case because the source material so explicitly states that labels are unimportant to Lisbeth, and this trailer does nearly nothing but label her.
What do you think?