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Cinema and Sexual Awakenings: Showgirls

I still remember the first time I saw Showgirls. I was around 7 years old, it was bedtime, and the adults were having a party downstairs. Of course, I didn’t go to bed, I decided to watch TV instead. The channel was set to HBO, and a movie came on. A blonde woman hitchhiking her way through the desert—tall, slender and her curly hair pulled up. She’s picked up by a man in his truck and they head to Vegas. I immediately recognized the main character Nomi, from Saved by the Bell. A transition that ended up being a knife to the throat of Elizabeth Berkley’s career.

Showgirls is a film by Paul Verhoeven, remembered mostly for its nudity and outrageous sex scenes. It tells the story of a drifter Nomi Malone, who finds her way to Las Vegas and works as a stripper with dreams of being a real dancer—a showgirl. This movie shows not just the glitz and glam of old Vegas, but also the dark side of Vegas life, and how cutthroat it is to not only be a young woman in the entertainment industry, but also a young woman desperate for a new life. With the world, and men against you at every turn.

Two things stood out to me as I sat in front of the TV to indulge in this adult movie that I had absolutely no business watching as a child. The first is how stunning and beautiful Elizabeth Berkely was in this movie. The second, was how predatory every man in this film was, starting with the hitchhiking opening scene. The only person who looked out for Nomi and treated her with kindness without any ulterior motive was Molly. I noticed, even at my young age, that the first stranger she encountered took advantage of her vulnerability and stole from her. And her second encounter with a stranger, who was Molly, did the opposite. She opened her home to Nomi and gave her a sense of safety in a cruel, unfamiliar place.

But Molly wasn’t the only woman that Nomi would form a close relationship with. That’s when we’re introduced to Gina Gershon. Like Nomi, Gina was stunning. That smirk and the way her makeup sparkled had me mesmerized. At that age, I knew nothing of sexual attraction, or sex at all really. So, experiencing so much eroticism on screen, paired with so much beauty—the allure of it all really pulled me in. I didn’t really understand what it was that I liked, but I knew in fact, did like it. I wanted to be beautiful like Nomi and Cristal. I wanted someone to care for me like Molly cared for Nomi.

It's worth it to mention the queer undertones of this film. Particularly between Nomi and Cristal. The eye contact, the slight touching, and hand gestures. The scene where Cristal complimented Nomi’s nails and said “You should do my nails sometime.” (I’m sorry even Helen Keller could see and hear how gay that line was LOL) They weren’t even soft-handed with the queer undertones. It’s clear that the relationship these two had was meant to be endearing, while also playing against the obvious sexual tension. Speaking of sex, I can’t go without mentioning another star in this film, Kyle MacLachlan who played Zack. That man was fine as hell back then too. But as I said earlier, I knew even then, that I liked whatever this movie was trying to tell me.

Showgirls was a film ahead of its time. The critics tore it apart, but despite that, I believe this film is a cult classic. If you haven't seen this movie, well, you should. It's currently streaming on Tubi. It's fun, almost everyone in it is eye candy, and a rapist gets the shit kicked out of him. Had it come out today, it would be praised by the media as “thought-provoking and brave.” It would be the subject of every white feminist think piece on Medium. The girlies would be eating it up, and rightfully so.

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