There’s Lots of Bisexuality in ‘Magic Mike XXL’, But Not Where You Might Expect

Actors Jada Pinkett Smith and Elizabeth Banks at a Magic Mike XXL Premiere

Jada Pinkett Smith and Elizabeth Banks at a Magic Mike XXL Premiere

Magic Mike XXL absolutely oozes bisexuality, but it’s not coming from the nearly-naked male strippers – It’s coming from the ladies.  Predictably, the women in the film are whipped into a frenzy each time the manly crotches start grinding in their faces.  In fact, the dancers get them so hot and bothered that they start turning to each other.  Before you know it, Jada Pinkett Smith and Elizabeth Banks are engaging in a lusty kiss.

The female characters in Magic Mike XXL all become puddles of jelly at the mere flash of a smile from the guys with killer abs.  These seemingly intelligent women swoon at a Twilight strip tease or a bad (is there a good?) Fifty Shades of Grey parody.  They are not exactly role models, unless the aspirational message is that women can be as sex-crazed as anyone else.

291AD22700000578-3108293-Coming_soon_Magic_Mike_XXL_will_have_its_premiere_on_July_1_in_N-a-1_1433327752599Meanwhile, the male characters, whose job it is to perform sexuality, have very homoerotic relationships that seemingly vanish as soon as they are away from the strippers’ stage.  The men embrace each other, get naked in front of each other, and chat about each others’ bodies, but it’s never even suggested that one of them could be gay or bisexual.  The female characters, who on one level are portrayed as those in power – the ones controlling men’s sexual expression by paying them to strip – are, in the end, exploited to titillate and scandalize the audience.  Their same-sex kisses are the onscreen equivalent of two women making out at a club to attract male attention.

In stark contrast to this highly performative version of bisexuality, actress Amber Heard, who plays Zoe in the film, is an out and proud bi woman.  Heard came out publicly during a GLAAD event in 2010. Last year, she married actor Johnny Depp and, as too often happens, the public began to wonder if getting married had changed her sexual orientation. To clear the air, Heard recently addressed her bisexuality in an interview with The Times.

Amber Heard as Zoe

Amber Heard as Zoe

“I don’t want to have to deny my sexuality in order to be me,” she said.  “But I don’t want to have to be defined by it.  I’m fundamentally opposed to trying to edit myself to be palatable or popular.  I don’t give a fuck.  I fight, but I shouldn’t have to.”

In the same interview, Heard informs us that she purposefully asked the filmmakers to add a few lines that make her character more explicitly bisexual (although her character doesn’t have any lady-lip-locking scenes like Smith and Banks have). Amber Heard also relates that after coming out as bisexual, she had a harder time landing film roles. Hopefully, starring in a box-office smash like Magic Mike XXL is a sign of better times ahead for her.  We live in an era where LGBT actors are finally beginning to enjoy mainstream success, and acceptance of sexual diversity is slowly but surely spreading through American society.  Still, if Magic Mike XXL is any indication, when it comes to what we see onscreen, Hollywood is still very comfortable with its old school take on sexuality.  It’s clearly the viewpoint of the heterosexual male: Women’s forays into queerness are titillating, but anything but straightness from men remains taboo.

One might be tempted to argue that the male characters in Magic Mike XXL are all depicted as straight so that they remain more appealing to the film’s main target audience of heterosexual women, except that studies have shown that women love depictions of man-on-man sexuality.  Perhaps, if Amber Heard is asked back for Magic Mike 3, she’ll be able to convince the producers to include a more realistic depiction of bisexuality.  One can always hope.  Until then, there’s always fan fiction…

Mike Szymanski
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Mike Szymanski has written about bisexual issues since 1989 and has one of the longest-running regular bisexual columns as the National Bisexuality Examiner. He came out as bisexual in a cover story of Genre magazine, which resulted in more than 50 television appearances, including Ricki Lake, Phil Donahue Show and 20/20. Szymanski won the Lambda Literary Award in 2007 for co-authoring an informative humor book “The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe: Quips, Tips and Lists for Those Who Go Both Ways.” Write him at [email protected]