Grease. Say Anything. Titanic. The Notebook. At first glance the images in Queer Movie Stills look just like brightly colored renderings of iconic moments from popular cinema romances of the last four decades.
Yet a closer look reveals that the John Cusack look-alike holding a stereo is actually a pink-haired woman. The figures standing on the ship’s prow are both female — and “John Travolta” is a girl.
The work of San Francisco artist and fashion designer Crystal Vielula, this exuberant series that exhibited in the city’s Castro neighborhood earlier this year plays with popular culture’s quintessential romance scenes — transforming them into queer love stories. “Because it’s hard to find representation of happy queer love in popular media,” Vielula says, “we need to create them in our own imaginations.”
The intent here, in Vielula’s words, is “recreating the narrative and claiming it” — “changing the world in the way that you would like to see it, rather than maybe how it is right now.” She was inspired to begin work on the series in 2017 by observing the chronic absence of positive representation of LGBTQ relationships, while she herself was in a happy lesbian partnership.
“We would always try to find movies to watch together — like romantic comedies or anything that would be nice and fun to watch,” she says. Yet in movies like 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Color, they saw only situations in which “the couple ends up breaking up because one of them ends up deciding they’re straight again” — or dies. Finding it “very strange not to be able to find any representations of a ‘happily ever after’” in popular visual culture that mirrored her own experience, Vielula went about creating them.