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Gary Younge
Lesbians accuse Spike Lee film of exploitation

Prominent lesbians have dismissed Lee's film, She Hate Me, saying its portrayal of lesbian life is both "extremely harmful and lacking in complexity".

"[There is an] obvious fine line between exploitation and visibility for us as lesbians and lesbians of colour in this film," Rosalind Lloyd, a black author, told Blade, New York's gay magazine.

"Real, authentic lesbians will not sleep with men for any reason at all."

Erica Doyle, a poet of Trinidadian descent, said that at the heart of the film, Lee had created "an extensive male fantasy of having sex with lots of women - women who are usually inaccessible to most men".

The film, which has been mostly panned by critics for being overlong and overcomplicated, revolves around a young, professional African-American man (Jack Armstrong) who is fired from a major pharmaceutical company after he blows the whistle on his boss.

With no job and no money he accepts an offer from his ex-fiancee, who has since become a lesbian, to impregnate her and her girlfriend. Soon he is working for several very feminine "lipstick" lesbians in one night, making good money and giving most of them orgasms at the same time.

Before he made the film Lee hired Tristan Taormino, a lesbian author and sex columnist for the Village Voice magazine, as "technical consultant". Taormino said she made Lee go to "lesbian boot camp", where she gave him a crash course in lesbian life through books, visits to lesbian bars, panel discussions and so on.

Lee hit back at the criticism, claiming that the film was popular with most black lesbians. He told Newsweek: "[Tristan] said, 'Spike, there's no way in the world you can make a film that every lesbian likes.' I'm glad she said that. It made me realise that lesbians are like any other group. They're not monolithic."

Yet several prominent black lesbians have condemned Lee over the film.

"I think the portrayal of the lesbians in this movie is extremely harmful," said Doyle. "The film implies, erroneously, that the only way to get pregnant is through 'natural' sexual intercourse with a man."

But Taormino argues that some lesbians are looking for one film to do too much.

"I can appreciate when lesbians say that they feel like they don't see themselves, their lives, or their realities represented in this film, but I don't think it is meant to represent all lesbians of colour, all upwardly mobile dykes, all lesbian moms, etc," she told Blade.

"No movie can do that. It is a movie, and that was Spike's vision. I was willing to 'go there' with the script and with Spike to see the issues it raised."

A number of critics have pointed out that there are many methods for lesbians to become parents in the 21st century, other than paying a stranger to have intercourse, such as adoption and artificial insemination.

"Spike Lee takes artistic licence with the idea of the lesbian baby boom and writes sex with [the main character] into every lesbian's part," said Claire Cavanah, co-founder of the sex toys retailer Toys in Babeland. "That just exposes his lack of real knowledge about lesbians."

To some extent Lee agrees, saying that the impregnation of the women in any other way would have made for poor viewing.

"That's not cinematic," he said. "I don't want to shoot women with, you know, their legs up in the air."

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