But I’m A Cheerleader & Revolutionary Girl Utena

jasonseacord
6 min readFeb 12, 2022

Recently I have been in the mood for comedy. And not just any comedy, specifically I have been in the mood for queer comedy. The last good queer comedy I watched was Q-Force though I still believe that the humour, in that case, was more quotable than anything else. “You’re gayer than me. Do you also taste songs?”

And recently, I came across the suggestion that the film But I’m A Cheerleader is considered a queer comedy to some, which made me do a little bit of a double-take causing me to rewatch it because I recall that film being very David Lynchian.

I have this view because before I watched But I’m A Cheerleader, I had seen the entirety of the anime Revolutionary Girl Utena directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Ikuhara has said that David Lynch is one of his inspirations and that he would very much like to work with him one day. Ikuhara is not well known for doing heaps in the anime industry. He is infamously difficult to work with, but his work is very unapologetically queer for what he has done. He has not disclosed anything about himself, but based on what I know about him, I would not be shocked to learn what I’m pretty sure of.

Whereas it’s well known that the director and producer of But I’m Cheerleader Jamie Babbit and Andrea Sperling were married to each other at the time.

Both Revolutionary Girl Utena and But I’m Cheerleader pretty much came out around the same time as each other and are, of course, very distinct from one another, especially since they are from different countries. I would recommend BIAC as an American version of RGU. So really, this similar vibe I get from them is likely coincidental. Still, it is rather interesting that we got two queer properties by creators possibly in the LGBT communities around the same time on a similar wavelength. And in entirely different parts of the globe no less. It’s amazing! I love it!

Neither of them is comedies, though. They are both satires. And I mean this, in the same way, Get Out and Stepford Wives are satires. BIAC and RGU have their humorous moments, but that is usually incidental.

I’m not surprised, though, that people think BIAC is a comedy since if you watched the trailer, that’s the appearance it gives. Also, the title of the movie invokes comedic privilege. And its cast of characters are teenagers, and the look of the film uses some pastel candy colours, giving it a teen rom-com appearance typical of the late 90s’ and early 2000s’ ala Jawbreaker.

RGU doesn’t look as pastel at BIAC but uses many unique colours in its presentation. It is set in a high school, so its cast is teenagers and uses some fantastic mise en scene as BIAC does. They also both have this strange, almost out of time quality to them, like you couldn’t quite place the setting they are supposedly in. For a more recent example of what I mean, there’s It Follows and the virtual world of San Junipero from Black Mirror.

RGU, in terms of satire, was for the BePapas team to interrogate genres such as shoujo and fairytales but was also a colossal character study into gender and sexuality. From the beginning, though, it gradually becomes a psychological series that may or may not have been about preventing either a metaphorical or literal apocalypse at the end, depending on how you interpreted it. So RGU could almost be described as BIAC if it was Donnie Darko. At least by the end of it.

RGU was a very high concept show that tried to do everything possible.

BIAC, on the other hand, keeps things simple. It is a film that satirizes conversion therapy which is a barbaric practice. I’ve heard some say that BIAC is triggering because of this, but it never really shows conversion therapy literally. Instead, it focuses on the absurdity of the idea of making people not homosexual. For example, the camp supervisor of True Directions, Mike, played by RuPaul Charles as in RuPaul’s Drag Race, never identifies as straight, just ex-gay. What exactly does one get out of this totally legit metamorphosis?

Whereas I absolutely would describe RGU as having triggering content. However, that content is not to be shocking but to be explored and resolved empathetically.

I can see how some may feel uncomfortable watching BIAC, though. It does inevitably have characters who are homophobic, and its main cast struggle with internalized homophobia. But once again, it’s always offset by the absurdity of this bigotry.

BIAC and RGU, regarding their most significant similarity, are essentially love stories about two teenage girls. But once more, they have very different ways of going about it.

RGU’s two leads don’t fully realize their feelings for each other because they were on a course to falling in love with each other eventually before the villain stepped in and derailed that. In comparison, BIAC’s two leads have a conflict with each other at the start. Megan is feminine virginal and doesn’t fully realize she’s a lesbian, and Graham fully acknowledges she likes girls, is masculine (less of a butch and more of a punk) in contrast to Megan and is experienced. And over time, they start to see eye to eye and become an item throughout the program.

RGU resolves the romantic story of Utena and Anthy by ending in tragedy, but on a bittersweet note. Utena sacrifices herself so that Anthy may live in peace without taking on ultimate suffering. Though there is an implication, Utena does survive somehow as Anthy searches for her.

And BIAC ends with Megan going back to the camp to save her girlfriend from compulsory heterosexuality and gender normativity with a simple cheerleading performance before declaring her love to Graham. This gesture gives Graham the courage to run after to wherever Megan is going, and it’s a happy ending. Like Megan, it’s sweet as fucking pie!

A shared parallel when it comes to RGU’s and BIAC’s ending is that Graham and Anthy betray their partner at some point. Graham’s betrayal is much earlier before the climax of the film. But Anthy’s betrayal is a huge part of the climax of RGU. And interestingly, one uses the masculine partner for the act of betrayal, and the other uses the feminine half of the couple.

And even though Utena is technically the masculine half of the duo, and Megan is the feminine partner in BIAC, they do have some similarities in appearance, oddly enough.

Interestingly, RGU, which satirized the typical gender roles in fairytales, stuck to having the feminine partner needing to be saved by the masculine half. In contrast, BIAC’s feminine lead goes to save the masculine of the two.

Even so, RGU didn’t just end on the note that it did. The series wrapped up the way it did and stood alone, but not too long after, Ikuhara directed a film version of RGU that served as a reimagining of the series. However, some diehard fans insist that it is actually a secret sequel. And the way that version of the story ends has a lot more in common with BIAC’s ending, by having the girls get together happily on a vehicle and at long last kiss each other as they travel into the unknown.

There’s a lot to like about BIAC, such as the very underrated cast. I particularly liked Dante Basco as Dolph. It made me wish Zuko was gay now. It was a very charming performance, in my opinion. The film was not particularly understood when it came out, but it has slowly become beloved as time has gone by. And from what I have heard, there is now a musical production and television series in the works that I believe are long due.

There are a lot of things in BIAC that are great but unfortunately also some unexplored aspects, which other avenues can follow through on. My main disappointment was with Jan’s character, played by Katrina Phillips. I’m inquisitive to see what treatment Jan would get in future incarnations.

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