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Reviews and Commentary on the Representation of Lesbians and Bisexual Women
in Entertainment and the Me













The Angelina Jolie Phenomenon: Bisexual Poster Girl?
Sarah Warn, July 2002

"I always play women I would date"--Angelina Jolie, Talk Magazine (June 2000)

In January of 2002, Angelina Jolie tied with Britney Spears for second place on's poll of the Sexiest Stars 2002, and in the same month claimed the third spot on E! Online's list of the "25 Sexiest Women in Entertainment."

In June of 2001, Harlequin readers voted Jolie the "2nd hottest female celebrity;" this May, 53% of the readers of Parents Magazine voted Angelina Jolie the celebrity mom they'd mostly like to hang out with (Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton have adopted one child and are in the process of adopting another).

In the July 2002 issue of Cosmo Magazine, Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar listed Angelina Jolie when asked whom she thought was the "hottest actress," explaining "she is very sexy. It sounds like an obvious answer, but there is something about her. She's hot, I'm sorry. And she's an incredible actress."

When asked in the August 2003 issue of Premiere Magazine for whom she'd "switch teams," Alyson Hannigan of Buffy also listed Angelina Jolie (and Jodie Foster).

Janet Jackson also cited Angelina Jolie as the sexiest woman alive in a July, 2001 interview. "I think Angelina Jolie is another who's got something about her. I don't know if it's her attitude or her ass, but for me that's the most beautiful part of the body."

Even Rosie O'Donnell jumped on the Jolie bandwagon in her book, "Find Me," writing "there's something [Angelina Jolie] represents to me. She represents some sort of truth and beauty."

Straight Men. Straight Women. Bisexual Women and Lesbians. Moms and Dads. Seems everyone but gay men are swooning for Angelina. That straight men are drawn to her is no big surprise--but that so many women (lesbian, bi and straight) are attracted to Jolie is not as predictable. In fact, it is a development quite unlike anything we've seen in American culture before. Not because so many women are attracted to Jolie, but because so many of them have expressed this attraction publicly.

Most people would agree that Angelina Jolie is attractive. But there are many beautiful women in Hollywood, and few generate the same kind of overwhelming interest across genders and sexual orientations that she does; clearly something else is going on here.

So what are the drivers behind this phenomenon?

1. Jolie's outrageous persona appeals to many women's secret desire to rebel.

Jolie's apparent fearlessness, her ability (and willingness) to say "fuck you" to the Establishment and succeed anyway, appeals to many women who have been raised to be polite and color inside the lines. Her roles in Gia and Tomb Raider only cemented this bad-girl image, as the larger-than-life characters she plays in these movies match the colorful personality she displays in real life.

In fact, most of the characters she has played onscreen--from early ones in movies like Hackers and Foxfire to later roles in films like Original Sin and Gone in 60 Seconds--are "outsiders" challenging convention.

"I've always had this kind of feeling that the clock is ticking," Jolie said in a Playboy Magazine interview. "Maybe that's why I choose to live openly. I don't have any fears about sort of throwing myself out there."

Both onscreen and off, Jolie embodies the kind of woman many of us secretly want to be--at least sometimes.

In the earlier days of her career, Jolie's comments were sometimes a little too on the starving-for-attention side (e.g. "You're young, you're drunk, you're in bed, you have knives; shit happens"). But unlike other celebrities whose shock tactics brought them only their fifteen minutes of fame, Jolie was able to parlay hers into a more enduring fame by backing it up with genuine talent (Gia, Girl Interrupted) and box office success (Tomb Raider).

"She's like a wild stallion...running," O'Donnell writes about Jolie. "She's the kind of person who jumps in the pool the night she wins her Academy Award."

In a February, 2002 Maxim interview, Angel star Charisma Carpenter joined the list of heterosexual women who find Jolie appealing:

"If I was forced to go with a woman, it would have to be Madonna or Angelina Jolie. Probably Angelina. We were staying at the same hotel recently and I bumped into her in the lobby. She looked so beautiful and elegant that I wanted to tell her but I was too dumbstruck. There's something deliciously mischievous about her. It's something to do with that glint in her eye. I found myself just staring at her but secretly I was hoping she was checking me out."

In April 2002, USA Today columnist Whitney Matheson did an informal poll of readers as to who was the "coolest person alive," and Angelina Jolie came in third. In announcing the results, Matheson wrote "Love her or leave her, you've gotta admit she's cool. From her enthusiasm for knives and leather pants to her two-year marriage to Billy Bob Thornton, Angelina is the woman of our dreams."

2. Jolie's open bisexuality contrasts sharply with the absence of openly bisexual actresses or characters on television and in the movies.

Jolie's frank, matter-of-fact acknowledgment of her own bisexuality (she was in a relationship with model and Foxfire co-star Jenny Shimizu in 1996, before her marriage to Thornton) and bisexuality in general belies the secrecy and denial with which bisexuality is normally treated by the media and in entertainment. When told that many of Jane Magazine's female readers had nominated her as "The Female Actor Who Makes Your Knees Weak," Jolie responded, "They're right to think that about me, because I'm the person most likely to sleep with my female fans. I genuinely love other women. And I think they know that."

Curve Magazine's Entertainment Editor has mentioned that in an interview with Jolie a few years ago, the actress "kept saying things like how she was in love with Jenny Shimizu and how her marriage might not work out."

The fact that Jolie actually played a lesbian in Gia makes it that much easier to blur her onscreen and off-screen personas, especially in conjunction with her public comments in support of lesbianism and bisexuality, such as this comment about Lara Croft (her character in Tomb Raider) in a June 2001 interview with the German magazine Amica:

"I could really imagine Lara not having a lot of time for men. Can you imagine that, Lara Croft as a lesbian? That would be a shock for the boys playing with their joysticks in their bedrooms around the world. At the end of the day I really like women. I'd love it if the girls in the cinema watching Lara Croft find me just as hot as their boyfriends do."

In a world with so few bisexual celebrities actually willing to come out and almost no bisexual film or television characters, Jolie's willingness to embrace bisexuality on and off-screen has made her the de facto poster girl for bisexual women.

Women who primarily identify themselves as heterosexual in everyday life despite finding the occasional woman attractive are drawn to Jolie precisely because of her unwillingness to hide her attraction to women. "Honestly, I like everything," Jolie said in the 2000 Elle interview. "Boyish girls, girlish boys, the heavy and the skinny. Which is a problem when I’m walking down the street."

This kind of outspoken honesty is highly seductive in a culture that generally encourages women to keep these kinds of feelings under wraps.

Jolie's openness on this topic is further amplified by the fact that there is a general absence of bisexual characters in film and television. Although the number of lesbian characters in mainstream movies and television has increased, bisexual women are still largely left out of the mix or made out to be murderess villains, as in Diabolique, Basic Instinct, or Poison Ivy.

The few mainstream films that have featured bisexual women, such as Chasing Amy or Kissing Jessica Stein have refused to name it as bisexuality, instead portraying the women as trying to choose between being straight or lesbian. As if there was no other alternative.

Even films written and directed by lesbians are not much better, for they rarely include bisexual characters.

In Jolie, bisexual women suddenly see themselves reflected in a positive way, and the mix of relief, admiration, and desire creates a powerful response. It's easier to identify with someone like Angelina Jolie than someone like Sharon Stone's character in Basic Instinct, so in the absence of positive bisexual film and television characters, Jolie has in effect become a "character," and even a litmus test of sorts: hosting a benefit in February 2002, newly out lesbian Rosie O'Donnell jokes, "They're saying I'm not gay enough. They say I lied because I said I love Tom Cruise. I do love Tom Cruise. What do I have to do, have sex with Angelina Jolie on TV?"

Pop star Christina Aguilera suggested in a March, 2003 interview that Britney Spears should consider dating Angelina Jolie because "I think Angelina Jolie would be worth it, she is really beautiful. She's tough, yet sexy at the same time, which not a lot of people can do.

3. As a celebrity, she's a "safe" outlet for many women's bisexuality.

Unlike having a crush on the woman at work or living two doors down, straight women who are secretly attracted to Angelina Jolie don't have to fear that they will ever be in a situation which might cause them to act on that attraction. As a celebrity, Jolie lives clearly in the realm of fantasy, and thus attraction to her doesn't really count against a woman's heterosexuality.

4. Jolie's aggressive personality appeals to some women's desire to be dominated--and to dominate. writer Scott Huver put it best in his explanation of Jolie's place in the Sexiest Star poll results. "How could you resist her?" Huver wrote. "If you tried, we have a feeling she'd kick in the door and hold you down on the floor with her boot until you submitted."

Which is exactly what many women (straight, lesbian, and bisexual) secretly desire--even Jolie herself. "I need someone physically stronger than me," Jolie said in a June 2000 interview with Elle Magazine. "I am always on top. It's really unfortunate. I am begging for the man that can put me on the bottom. Or the woman. Anybody that can take me down."

A decade earlier, Madonna generated a similar buzz, but didn't create the same kind of phenomenon because only one of these factors really applied to her (the rebelliousness). Maybe one and a half, if you count her occasional dalliances with women. But although she flirted with bisexuality, Madonna always appeared to be doing it more as a marketing ploy to deliver maximum shock value than out of genuine interest. Her sexual friendship with Sandra Bernhard aside, Madonna is the kind of woman you could see hook up with a woman, but not actually be in a relationship with one.

On the other hand, one could quite easily see Jolie in a relationship with another woman now that she isn't married. Not that she necessarily would look for this, since it's not Jolie's style to seek out one gender over the other, but at least with Jolie you believe it's possible.

It's the coexistence of all three of these factors at the same time within the same woman that is responsible for the universal attraction to Jolie. If she were just bisexual but not outspoken about it, or exhibited outrageous behavior but was not bisexual, or was just another beautiful married actress, Jolie would still have many fans. But she would probably not have the massive and diverse following of straight, lesbian, and bi women that she has today without the convergence of all three of these factors.

As long as the taboo on bisexuality and the pressure on women to be ladylike remain strong forces in our culture, Angelina Jolie will continue to serve as a sort-of litmus test for bisexuality in women who otherwise define themselves as heterosexual. Meanwhile, Jolie's position as the Bisexual Poster Girl will actually weaken the very social conditions that put her there.

By contributing significantly to the national dialogue on bisexuality, she is making it less likely that she will be such a rarity in the future--circumstances in which even Angelina Jolie wouldn't mind blending into the background.

Update: In Jolie's interview with Barbara Walters on July 11th's edition of 20/20 (ABC), she talked about her bisexuality and the fact that she is still open to a relationship with a woman, saying "I consider myself a very sexual person who loves who she loves, whatever sex they may be."

Related Articles:
Review of Gia
Bi with a Boyfriend: the Latest Hollywood Trend?
Review of Kissing Jessica Stein
The L Word: Showtime's New Lesbian Series

Review of Rosie's book "Find Me"
Tammy Lynn Micheals Comes Out: An Un-Popular Career Move?
Timeline of Lesbian and Bi Characters on TV

Related Links:
Angelina Jolie fan site with photo gallery & news
USA Today: "Praising Cool Women of the World"'s Sexiest Star #2, Angelina Jolie"

Harlequin Survey results
Entertainment Weekly: "Girl Uncorrupted"
Talk Magazine: "Angelina in Love"
"What the Hell is Wrong with Angelina Jolie?"

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