‘Golden Gate Girls’ shows different aspects of LGBTQ+ community
As a part of a five-film series that highlights different aspects of the LBGTQ+ community and the intersectionality within it, the second film, “Golden Gate Girls,” shown in Engleman Hall, was a documentary focused on the life of Esther Eng, a Cantonese-American film director who openly identified as a lesbian during the 1930s.
The film series, “I’m Telling Queer Stories Through Film,” is a collaboration between the Sexuality and Gender Equality Center and the New Haven Pride Center.
Jenna Retort, the coordinator for the SAGE Center, said these films are an opportunity for students to look outside their own experiences and see issues that impact the LBGTQ+ community.
“It is to be able to think more deeply about communities in which they don’t identify,” said Retort. “So, the films that we chose look at different aspects of the LBGTQ+ community,and also kind of looking at the intersection of it.”
Patrick Dunn, executive director of the New Haven Pride Center, said he came across the documentary about Eng and chose it because he liked that it was about a lesbian woman and saw it as an opportunity to expand women’s programming at the center.
“I kind of read a little bit about Esther online and I’m like, ‘This is really fascinating.’ Like, the idea of someone kind of being unabashedly gay in the 1930s and being unabashedly gay and in Hollywood in the 1930s is just really fascinating to me,” said Dunn.
Eng was the first female director to direct Chinese-language films in the United States, making four films in America and five in Hong Kong. Most of those films were lost, except for “Murder in New York China Town” and “Golden Gate Girl.”
Though Eng was openly gay during the 1930s, she never received any backlash for it. Hannah Madden, a PhD exchange student from Liverpool John Moores University, said she thought it was because of her attitude.
“She was quite a controversial figure in the way she dressed for the time. She could’ve experienced a lot of negativity, but I think maybe she was just so nice and so charming that people didn’t ever really challenge it,” said Madden.
Dunn said he was amazed by the fact that Eng was only 23, openly lesbian and Asian, which typically would have been significant obstacles for most people in that community during that period. However, despite prejudice, she became a successful film director.
“She sounds like a fabulous lady. I wish I could’ve met her, like, seriously,” said Dunn. “I liked that she had this kind of ‘take no bull—-’ kind of attitude. Like, I don’t know if that was her actual attitude, but it seemed like it.”
Regarding intersectionality, Eng is an example of someone who doesn’t fit into one group. Retort said that identity often gets siloed, or viewed in the perspective that someone cannot be more than one thing.
“We think about people of color as one community, and LGBTQ+ people as this umbrella community, or women as a community, or people with disabilities, but it’s recognizing that people do have these things and they don’t have it independently of each other,” said Retort.
The documentary ended by saying how Eng crossed the boundaries of race, language, culture, and gender without fear, and Dunn said he hopes to see more people like her.
“The idea that somebody like that existed, like, 80 or 85 years ago, it’s really cool,” said Dunn. “We need more Esther Eng’s in the world.”