Born in Flames (1983)
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Born in Flames is number 53 on the BFI Flare's Best LGBT Films of All Time list, but it probably deserves to be much higher. To fully understand the political, cultural, and social commentaries this film is steeped in, one would have to read "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" by Adrienne Rich, originally published in 1980 in the feminist academic journal Signs. It's almost as if Lizzie Borden, the director of Born in Flames, read "Compulsory Heterosexuality" and decided to adapt it, a brilliant, lengthy, jargon-heavy academic article, into a film.
Borden does a brilliant job. She imagines a future where a socialist has been elected President of the United States and a socialist revolution has turned the United States into a socialist country. The new socialist President (who never shows up in person on film, though his speeches are talked about on the news throughout the film since they help drive the plot), who reminds me a whole lot of Bernie Sanders, announces that, due to a recession, women will now be paid by the government to stay home so the men can have the jobs outside the home. Soon, a resistance made up exclusively of women rises up to challenge the socialist President since he seems to want to turn back the gains made by women to the late-Victorian period, or sooner. At first, this resistance is entirely media based, with women running pirate radio and television stations spreading the voices of women who do not wish to return to being exclusively homemakers. The socialist government then begins cracking down on the media, and the mainstream, government controlled media, begins denouncing the women of the resistance as violent, radical "lesbians."
This is part of the brilliance of the film. Despite the media denouncing the women's resistance as "lesbians," the women being denounced never confirm nor deny whether or not they are lesbians. The viewer can assume that, of course, some of them are, but by no means all, or even most are. In "Compulsory Heterosexuality," Rich writes about what she dubs the "lesbian continuum," which covers all women who band together in mutual support, camaraderie, and friendship. As such, the "lesbian continuum" covers every relationship between women from romantic, sexual relationships to familial relationships between sisters or mothers and daughters to platonic friendships to acquaintances to relationships formed when fighting for a common cause.
More to come . . .
Not uniquely Afrofuturistic, Born in Flames is more of a feminist piece, but it covers a lot of ground, extending its message to all minorities. Shot like a documentary, following militants, introducing news items, but also including fictional elements that couldn't possibly be documented, Lizzie Borden's 1983 film is like a document from an alternate reality where the U.S. went socially democratic and yet women are protesting their sidelining post-revolution, while a Women's Army is taking more drastic action. It obliquely predicted the "post-racism" revolution of Barack Obama's presidency, not only creating a violent pushback from Right, but also not changing things very much at all. And when I say "predict", I must mean all of that was already true in the 1980s, just replace whatever social actors into the narrative. The lie of Neoliberalism is that "liberalism" is just a new kind of conservatism, albeit an orthodoxy painted in different colors. The revolution was an exercise in branding. Though the film takes its cues from such militant organizations as the Black Panthers, modern eyes will also draw comparisons to the Black Lives Matter movement. As it's told in vignettes, it's not really the kind of thing where you latch on to any single character, and it's necessarily didactic. But if there was ever a time to discover this film, I'd say it's now. It's never been so relevant.
I was intrigued to see Eric Bogosian pop up in the film for just a few moments, but I didn't realize until the closing credits that one of the newspaper editors was director Kathryn Bigelow! Wow.
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In 4 official lists
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This movie ranks #9 in BFI's 100 Science Fiction Films
This movie ranks #10 in BFI's 100 American Independent Films
This movie ranks #53 in BFI Flare's The Best LGBTQ+ Films of All Time
This movie ranks #718 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films: 1001-2000