Research regarding LGBT relationships for my dissertation has been difficult, with filmic representation of domestic abuse considerably lacking. Yet, statistics and research provided reveals physical and emotional abuse between partners is no less prevalent than in heterosexual relationships.
On End the Fear’s information page on LGBT relationships, it states ‘domestic abuse in the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community is a serious issue […]about 25% of LGBT people suffer through violent or threatening relationshipswith partners or ex-partners which is about the same rates as in as domestic abuse against heterosexual women. As in opposite-gendered couples, the problem is underreported‘.
Fortunately, I discovered two brilliant British and American short films representing both physical and emotional abuse in lesbian relationships, bringing important attention to otherwise largely ignored issues.
Directed by Tom Smith, Smoke is an award-winning short film set in England and follows the relationship between abusive Mollie and her partner Ashley. After experiencing a late-night violent episode, with physical cuts and bruises to her face and body, Ashley bravely seeks help from her brother. Providing a flashback sequence to showcase the extent of Mollie’s abuse, Ashley is emotionally torn between realising the danger of the abuse but still feeling both love and attachment towards her partner (she states ‘I can’t leave her, I love her’). Smith explores the important effects of alcoholism in relationships of domestic abuse; such as Nil by Mouth and Tyrannosaur, with Mollie’s dependency on drink providing a trigger for her violence. Yet the film never excuses drink as a reason or explanation.
The realism of the short makes it an honest and eye-opening experience, refusing to glamorise or sugarcoat abuse. It also provides a supportive and encouraging narrative conclusion, with Ashley’s brother helping her move out of their shared home and Ashley refusing to listen to Mollie’s desperate apologetic pleads.
After discovering Smoke, I came across a Buzzfeed production entitled Unaware, part of their ‘Unhealthy Relationships’ series from last year. This particular short focuses on emotional abuse experienced between lesbian relationships, over the duration of a weekend trip. Best friends Brittany and Ally are accompanied by their respective partners, Brittany’s long-term girlfriend and Ally’s new date. Starting off with peculiar comments made towards Brittany, and escalating to seemingly desiring complete control of her actions, the abuse is gradually revealed both to audience’s and Brittany’s best friend. The short highlights the importance of recognising emotional abuse, with Brittany denying their relationship as abusive because ‘she’s never hit me’, to Ally responding ‘she doesn’t have to’. The effects of emotional abuse are as damaging to people in relationships as physical violence, insinuated by the fear and hurt in Brittany’s eyes during the film’s closing shot.
Smoke and Unaware are both set over short periods of time, showcasing the quick escalation of abuse and how drastically situations between partners can change from seemingly happy to a complete position of powerplay. Yet, the films narrative resolutions are vastly different. Although they each feature the character in the backseat of a car; Ashley is driving towards freedom from the relationship whereas Brittany is returning from the weekend-trip and towards a continuation of the abuse.
Whilst the rest of the characters and surrounding area continues on as normal, with an upbeat summer song playing in the background, the film highlights the isolation and loneliness of abuse. In comparison, Ashley’s safety as the car drives away from Mollie, provides narrative resolution and the positive aspects of overcoming abuse.
LGBTQ domestic violence awareness is incredibly difficult to come across, but these two short films are excellent in highlighting physical and emotional abuse in same-sex relationships between women and how surrounding friends and family can intervene and tackle the situation. It’s encouraging how Buzzfeed has used it’s international platform to provide understanding and awareness to a diverse range of readers/viewers.