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How Bottoms Director Emma Seligman Hilariously Flipped the Predatory Lesbian Trope on Its Head

How Bottoms Director Emma Seligman Hilariously Flipped the Predatory Lesbian Trope on Its Head

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Seligman wanted to tell a story that seemed real about queer teen sexuality.

Emma Seligman’s new comedy Bottoms is unlike just about any other lesbian movie you’ll see.

These characters aren’t struggling to come out, they’re not in the distant past, and they do a hell of a lot more than just hold hands. These “ugly, untalented gays” (as they’re called in the movie) are horny, problematic, and violent — exactly how Seligman likes them.

Directed by Seligman and co-written by Seligman and Rachel Sennott, follows two teen lesbians, PJ (Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) who are at the “bottom” of the school’s social rung. In order to climb up some steps, they decide to start a fight club in the hopes that it will get the cheerleaders they have crushes on to kiss them.

Seligman said she loved the specific idea of the two high school students forming a fight club because “it just shows that at least Josie and PJ are so horny and selfish that they're willing to go to these lengths in order to sleep with other girls.”

“I was inspired by other teen movies where the leads are fighting to save the day or they have some sort of hero's arc, and they're badass and they're impressing the girl along the way,” she tells Out. “Like superhero movies or sort of boy adventure movies. And I think that there's something about being so naive and immature in high school, or just as a young person, as a young baby gay, where you feel like you need to imitate masculinity or something in order to get a girl's attention. And I think that this is Josie and PJ's way of doing that.”

Both Josie and PJ spend the majority of the movie trying to get into the skirts of two ostensibly straight cheerleaders, played by Havana Rose Liu and Kaia Gerber. It’s a premise that if done by someone not in the community, would fall directly into the Predatory Lesbian trope. Here, it’s turned into an over-the-top, but still relatable, sex satire.

As a queer woman herself, Seligman is all too familiar with the trope and its effects on queer women.

“When I was first coming into my sexuality, there was so much nervousness around, ‘Well, am I allowed to even have crushes even on girls if I don't know what their sexuality is? If I don't know if they're attracted to other genders?’” she says. “And I think that affected the way we were writing the script when it comes to having them not be too creepy. I definitely felt like when we were first writing where I was like, 'Oh no, are they going to look like they're trying to turn these girls? Or they're predatory?’ But at the same time, we just kind of felt like they're hormonal and they're selfish and they're horny characters. And so there's no way we can go about this without them just being themselves and pursuing their goals.”

She says that the trope “infiltrates even the way that as queer artists and queer writers, we tell our own stories,” and that at a certain point, she just had to stop thinking about it so she could tell a good, relatable story.

There’s also the point that PJ and Josie’s actions are no more predatory (and often, far less) than those done by male characters in teen sex comedies like American Pie, Superbad, and Revenge of the Nerds throughout time.

“I mean, I was super horny in high school. I just don't really know teenagers who aren't horny,” Seligman says. “I do think that it's important to have different kinds of queer representation when it comes to teenage characters. And it's so rewarding to be able to see characters who have crushes and go after their crushes and have heartfelt emotions and romance and longing in all kinds of stories. And I'm happy those shows exist, but I think that I can't really relate to that part without the sexual part.”

“Sex is so shoved in our faces as young people, especially as a teenager,” she continues. “And I want to push back against the idea that [queer] teens or characters in general aren't allowed to be as horny and as selfish and as sexual and as hormonal as the straight male characters that we've seen on screen for so long.”

Bottoms is Seligman’s second film after the spectacular Shiva Baby. When it comes to her third project, she says simply, “I hope to make it equally weird and gay. We’ll see.”

Bottoms is now playing in select theaters.

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Mey Rude

Mey Rude is a journalist and cultural critic who has been covering queer news for a decade. The transgender, Latina lesbian lives in Los Angeles with her fiancée.

Mey Rude is a journalist and cultural critic who has been covering queer news for a decade. The transgender, Latina lesbian lives in Los Angeles with her fiancée.