Please upgrade your browser for the best Refinery29 experience. Read more.

Saved! Access Favorites in your account profile. Removed from my favorites

19 Movies That Show The History Of Romance Between Women

  1. Begin
    History Of Lesbian Relationships On Film, From The Exploitative To CarolOPENER_Abbie_Winters

    SHARE IT

    comments
    See All Slides
    Today, one of the most beautiful films of the year opens. Carol tells the story of the romance between Therese (Rooney Mara), a young department store shopgirl, and Carol (Cate Blanchett), a suburban woman in the middle of a divorce. Directed by Todd Haynes, the movie follows Therese and Carol as they pursue their mutual attraction through coded language — and then let their relationship flourish. Therese comes of age; Carol affirms her identity. "They don’t suffer as a result of their sexuality," screenwriter Phyllis Nagy told Refinery29 in an interview this summer. "They suffer over other things, but not that."

    In an essay for New York, Frank Rich notes that the film allows its audience to "realize how much we don’t know about a past that unfolded in the shadows until not very long ago." He also points out that "lesbians rarely receive the same measure of attention as gay men in our culture, pop culture included." But the on-screen history of romance between women goes back a long way — at least to 1931. So, in honor of Carol, we decided to explore that rich history, from the crass and exploitative to the mature and thoughtful. Click ahead for our list.


    Begin Slideshow
  2. <iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/0Bj1Z5Pd7vc" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    SHARE IT

    0 Comments
    See All Slides
    0 of 19

    Mädchen in Uniform (1931)

    Yes, we’re starting this list all the way back in 1931, with this underrated but revolutionary German movie about a schoolgirl who falls in love with her teacher. The Nazis banned it in Germany, and it did not screen in the U.S. until Eleanor Roosevelt lifted the bans in the U.S. When the film opened in 1932 in New York, The New York Times’s Mordaunt Hall wrote that “The New York State Board of Censors at first frowned upon the suggestion in this film of the ‘Captive' theme, but recently they reconsidered their refusal to grant it a license.” (The Captive was a lesbian-themed play that was on Broadway in 1926.)

  3. <iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/fSTPwxEzG1Y" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    SHARE IT

    0 Comments
    See All Slides
    1 of 19

    The Children’s Hour (1961)

    In the 1930s in the U.S., the restrictive Hays Code was in effect, so when Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play The Children's Hour was first adapted into a film (directed by William Wyler), the lesbian themes were scrapped. But in 1961, Wyler took another stab at the material and directed a second film version of the play, in which the true plot was reinstated. Audrey Hepburn and Shirley Maclaine star as schoolteachers accused of having an affair.

  4. <iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/lK_so-VB4Pc" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    SHARE IT

    0 Comments
    See All Slides
    2 of 19

    The Fox (1967)

    Based on a D.H. Lawrence novel, The Fox stars Anne Heywood and Sandy Dennis as Ellen and Jill, two women living alone on a chicken farm. A man named Paul (Keir Dullea) disturbs their peace and romances Ellen. Jill ends up dying, and Ellen goes off with Paul. “The fox, which Lawrence intended as a male symbol in the book, seems to represent lesbianism in the movie,” Renata Adler wrote in the New York Times in 1968. “Since Paul kills it — by my count, two chickens and the fox died for this film — it seems to make more sense.” Writing for the site AfterEllen, Jenni Olson called the movie the “ne plus ultra example of homophobic lesbian movies — and in that sense a great vintage landmark to show how far we really have come.”

  5. <iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/jLnQ4_mUtwo" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    SHARE IT

    0 Comments
    See All Slides
    3 of 19

    Personal Best (1982)

    Personal Best is about two female track-and-field stars who become romantically involved. However, the book In the Company of Women: Contemporary Female Friendship Films argues that the movie “ends by exalting female friendship at the expense of lesbianism.” Complex wrote that it has one of the “most gratuitous girl-on-girl scenes in movies,” but AfterEllen disagreed, noting that "for audiences hungry for well-produced, big-budget depictions of non-allegorical lesbian lovemaking, Personal Best was a first."

  6. <iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/Dn0vORrRIyI" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    SHARE IT

    0 Comments
    See All Slides
    4 of 19

    Desert Hearts (1985)

    Desert Hearts is considered a groundbreaking film and has been deemed the first mainstream movie focusing on a lesbian relationship and also directed by a lesbian (Donna Deitch). In the movie, a professor, Vivian Bell (Helen Shaver), moves to Reno in the 1950s to get a divorce. There, she meets a young woman on the ranch where she's staying. As the executive editor of DAME Magazine, Kera Bolonik, recently told New York magazine when she cited Desert Hearts as an important “lesbian-culture artifact,” for her, the film has “a lesbian-positive ending — which is to say neither woman died or went crazy or got punished or returned to men.”