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The Misadventures of Spike's Dykes 

We love lesbians, and we love movies, so why don't we love Spike Lee's lesbian movie She Hate Me?

Wednesday, Jul 7 2004
We love lesbians. We love movies. And when it comes to lesbian movies, we love realism. So when we heard acclaimed director Spike Lee would be exploring female partnership in his new film, She Hate Me, Dog Bites eagerly snapped up an invitation to an advance screening, hoping Spike's movie (er, joint) would throw back the curtain, once and for all, on what it means to be a real-life, non-stereotypical lesbian in the modern world. Really. That's what we were hoping.

We were in luck! Upon arriving at the Variety Club Preview Room, we were delighted to discover that the film's "lesbian consultant," Tristan Taormino, would host the evening. Taormino is a renowned sexpert who advised Lee and led workshops for the actresses portraying the film's lesbian characters. Dog Bites settled in among the buzzing local arts critics and members of the queer community (we'll leave the distinction to you), who were eager to see whether Spike's courageous blend of sex comedy and maternal dyke drama would revive his reputation as a filmmaker unafraid to flinch from gritty portrayals of society's marginalized.

Maybe it was the courtroom "suspense," perhaps it was the sperm-donor slapstick, but the movie inspired disapproving snickers from the start. By the time we reached the dramatic climax -- when hunky hero Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie) gets busy with ex-girlfriend-turned-lesbian Fatima (Kerry Washington) and her hottie lesbo lover, Alex (Dania Ramirez) -- the room was in cynical stitches. Spike's joint, it seemed, was going over like a lead balloon.

It couldn't have been the plot, could it? Anyone could see how Fatima and Alex, two high-gloss lipstick lesbians just dying to get knocked up, would pay a discredited, out-of-work biotech exec to impregnate them; and how, for a modest pimping cut, Fatima and Alex would spread the word to their rainbow coalition of dyke pals, who would then pay $10,000 a pop to Jack. Between chugging energy sodas and popping erectile enhancers, Jack manages not only to father a litter of 19, but also to regain his credibility and give the good ol' boys on Capitol Hill a political tongue-lashing. He finally decides to do the right thing (wink, wink) by living happily ever after in a multicultural ménage à trois with Fatima and Alex, the kind of scenario that happens all the time in San Francisco.

It's no wonder, once the giggling subsided and the lights came up, that Taormino opened the damage control by saying, "I don't think [Lee] was going for realism on this."

But what was he going for? Hiring Taormino -- a Village Voice sex columnist, touring lecturer (she's spoken at Yale!), and all-around queen of kink who has counseled Howard Stern, Dr. Drew, Ricki Lake, and Playboy -- would seem to imply that Spike was interested in a slightly-less-cartoonish portrayal of lesbians than offered in, say, Wild Things. After all, Taormino has edited lesbian erotica collections and is a best-selling author of her own authoritative tome, The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, so she certainly knows her hard-core stuff. For She Hate Me, she helped cast the actors, most of whom are arrow straight, and provided some, um, guidance for Lee. (According to Taormino, Spike's original vision of the supporting lesbian characters was a set of beefy butch "female bodybuilders.") Taormino, it appeared, was supposed to help Lee come off as at least a lesser-degree jackass, and when the shooting wrapped, she was drafted to join him on a preview tour for queer audiences in 13 cities. Though Taormino insisted these were not test screenings ("Spike adamantly doesn't test-screen," she said, and why would he?), question-and-answer discussions were held with the audience after each viewing.

Our first question: Where was Spike? Surely he would have loved to answer the queries of a pre-Pride Week crowd in lesbian-friendly San Francisco, which Taormino described as "the most politically sophisticated audience of the tour"? Ah, a scheduling conflict! As it happens, San Francisco was the only city of the tour that found Lee unavailable. (His people have since confirmed that the director was "most definitely out of the country." Lucky him.)

As the evening wore on, Taormino faced a room of increasingly angry dykes, bemused journalists, and stammering Spike supporters. The tone of the questions started gently: "How bad was it when you first saw the script?" someone in the back shouted. "How bad would it have been if you wouldn't have consulted?" Eventually, Ms. Taormino was forced to confess: "Um, Spike doesn't actually know any dykes of color." Hang on a minute, isn't that what She Hate Me is all about?

As we exited the theater, wishing we'd brought that bushel of rotten vegetables after all, we could only imagine what brave magnum opus might next emerge from the, um, imagination of Spike Lee. Maybe a drama about the hardships of Midwestern farm boy drag queens. Moo Betta Shoes, perhaps? (Nate Cavalieri)

Leia Culpa

It would appear that SF Weekly does indeed circulate to a galaxy far, far away, and several Star Wars fans there kindly took the time to alert us to a gaffe in last week's Dog Bites. We misspelled the name of Princess Leia Organa.


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