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Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives is a 1992 Canadianmarker documentary film about the lives of lesbian women and their experiences of lesbian pulp fiction. It was written and directed by Lynne Fernie and Aerlyn Weissman and featured author Ann Bannon. It premiered at the 1992 Toronto Film Festivalmarker and was released in the United Statesmarker on 4 August 1993. It was produced by Studio D, the women's studio of the National Film Board of Canada.

Subject Matter

The movie opens with a dramatized scene of two women saying goodbye at a train station, alluding that they were to run away together. One of the women, named "Beth" declines to go with "Laura" and leaves her at the station.

A discussion of the impact of lesbian pulp fiction for women in the 1940s and 1950s begins, featuring Ann Bannon, discussing her experiences as a writer in the 1950s. Nine Canadian women are interviewed throughout the documentary: Keely, a butch woman living near Vancouvermarker, Stephanie, also in Vancouver, Reva, in Victoria, B.C.marker, Lois, also in Torontomarker, Nairobi, a black woman living in Montrealmarker, Jeanne, also in Toronto, Amanda, a Haida woman who lived in several Canadian cities, Carol, a butch woman living in Ontariomarker, and Ruth, also living in Vancouver.

Each woman discussed her experience in realizing her attraction to women, and how they pursued relationships in the repressive society. Some women felt they had to choose to be butch or femme as all women who went to bars during that time had to choose one or the other. The women who frequented the bars discussed the kinds of establishments they were, secretive and usually dingy. Ruth described the only bar where women were allowed to dance with each other in Vancouver as a "dive". Bars sometimes were open for a year before they were shut down or changed management. Some higher class establishments would only allow women with male escorts, so the women took gay men along. Stephanie, Lois, and Carol discussed the fights that took place between butch women over femmes since the ratio was about ten to one. Amanda discussed her experiences living in a white society. She found gay bars depressing since most of the people were usually very drunk, so she often went to bars where black people went since she was bothered less there. Nairobi described in detail what it was like to be in a police raid, and Stephanie described how the women met with police harassment. Each woman also described the relationships they had. Reva and Jeanne both discussed how they began relationships with ex-girlfriends of ex-girlfriends, who in turn lived with each other and Stephanie discussed being in an abusive relationship. Each woman talks about her life with frankness and humor. The interviews conclude with summaries the past 20 years of each woman's life.

The interviews are interwoven with the dramatization of Laura entering a gay bar for the first time and meeting a woman named "Mitch" who buys her a drink, and they end up at Mitch's apartment.

Allusions to literature

The characters of Beth and Laura are allusions to characters in Ann Bannon's Beebo Brinker Chronicles, the six lesbian pulp fiction novels she wrote. Bannon's first book, Odd Girl Out ends very much like the opening sequence of the film, with Beth leaving Laura at a train station while a man named Charlie waits for her, as a Charlie waits for the Beth in Forbidden Love. Bannon has stated that a major influence on her choice to write lesbian pulp fiction was the novel Spring Fire by Vin Packer, which features a lesbian character named Susan Mitchell, who goes by her nickname Mitch.


The film received overwhelming positive reviews in Canada, the United States, and Australia.


The Gazette in Montreal called it "deliberately campy" and director Lynne Fermie spoke of her intentions for the film. "We wanted this film to be on television. This part of Canadian history has been so silenced that we should be able to hear all our divergent stories, and we should be able to see them on the CBC." The Globe and Mail reviewed it and wrote, "There are scores of stories, all well told and crisply edited, that range from the very funny to the very sad and they are so compelling that the erotic fiction segments...seem dim only in contrast. The power of Forbidden Love is the extraordinary honesty and courage of its players." The Toronto Star praised the direction and production. "Weismann and Fernie's film is designed to contribute to the fast-growing records of the gay culture. After decades of suppression and shame, homosexuality is finally gaining the tolerance (if not, unfortunately, the acceptance) of the general public - and it's heartening that their voices can now be heard through an institution like the NFB. This movie touches on 10 stories; there are undoubtedly thousands more waiting to be told."

United States

The Boston Globe gave it positive reviews in the context of the pulp fiction at the time saying, "Repudiating the obligatory disastrous endings in those old novels, they seem to have enjoyed their lives as lesbians, and this film encourages us to share the liberation they had to steal from an oppressive, provincial society not disposed to give them any break at all." Like most of the other reviews, The New York Times was more impressed with the interviews than with the dramatic scenes, writing, "Whether they look like truckers or cowboys or sweet-faced grannies, the women seen in "Forbidden Love" have a shared sense of humor...Even in discussing the more turbulent aspects of their history, though, most of these women retain their wry outlook."


The Australian newspaper The Age wrote, "What wonderful, feisty women they are. Dare I say, some of the original wicked women...A corny lesbian mini-soap inspired by the pulp runs through the film. Just an excuse, so the directors say, for squeezing in a gratuitous love scene. This film is a hoot."


In 1993 the film won the Genie Award for best feature documentary and in 1994 it won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film (Documentary).


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