Melissa Febos on Why Labyrinth Is a Queer Film
In Conversation with Mychal Denzel Smith on the Open Form Podcast
Welcome to Open Form, a new weekly film podcast hosted by award-winning writer Mychal Denzel Smith. Each week, a different author chooses a movie: a movie they love, a movie they hate, a movie they hate to love. Something nostalgic from their childhood. A brand-new obsession. Something they’ve been dying to talk about for ages and their friends are constantly annoyed by them bringing it up.
In this episode, Mychal talks to Melissa Febos about the 1986 film Labyrinth, directed by Jim Henson and starring Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie.
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From the episode:
Melissa Febos: I mean, the film is a product of its time … I grew up on Sesame Street, and when we encountered this movie like I wasn’t very far away from Sesame Street, but I was approaching the bend toward adolescence. So I think I had this sort of partially nascent awareness of aspects of my personality and experience that were about to emerge, and this movie really spoke to them. I really rewatched it for the first time in a while recently because my wife had never seen it before. Like, this makes no sense. But David Bowie is such a … it’s very queer, you know what I mean? And I think I already certainly had a sense of my own queerness, and I just felt enraptured by his character, who was like very gender-nonconforming and alluring and sad and powerful.
There was something about that that I found really irresistible in a similar way that I think the character does, too. It was kind of a hero’s journey that featured like gender-nonconforming character and a teenage girl and a bunch of trolls and a baby. In the 80s, there was She-Ra and then there were Barbies and then there were like boy stories. All my other favorite movies were about boys. This movie was like the hero’s journey for this super fem girl.
Melissa Febos is the author of the memoir Whip Smart and two essay collections: Abandon Me and Girlhood. The inaugural winner of the Jeanne Córdova Nonfiction Award from LAMBDA Literary and the recipient of fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Bread Loaf, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, The BAU Institute, Vermont Studio Center, The Barbara Deming Foundation, and others; her essays have appeared in The Paris Review, The Believer, McSweeney’s Quarterly, Granta, Sewanee Review, Tin House, The Sun, and The New York Times. She is an associate professor at the University of Iowa, where she teaches in the Nonfiction Writing Program.