New movie Femme queers the crime thriller genre

Paapa Essiedu of 'I May Destroy You’ appears in the short movie.

by Douglas Greenwood
24 March 2021, 5:05pm

Still from Femme

“We wanted to tell a story about heterophobia: the anxiety, or even fear, that queer people often feel in aggressively heterosexual situations.” This is how writing and directing duo Ng Choon Ping and Sam H. Freeman describe Femme, their SXSW-premiering short movie about a queer Londoner named Jordan who, when he jumps into a drug dealer’s car on a night out, spirals into a world alien to his own. “The core premise of the story is about what happens when a character from one end of the heteronormative spectrum of masculinity meets a character from the other.”

The movie -- which fills you with more and more crushing panic the deeper Jordan descends into this hyper-masculine sinkhole -- is stylishly realised, paying homage to movies by the Safdie Brothers and Scorsese. Ping and Sam call this “a hypermasculine fantasy genre” that, until now, has “almost exclusively [been] the domain of straight protagonists” --  think crime thrillers set in the darkest hours of the night in which male ego becomes a violent weapon. What Femme does so cleverly is twist the context and expectations of that ego, to the point where its intersections with femmeness harbour more power than what you might think. 

At the centre of the movie is Paapa Essiedu, the star of I May Destroy You, who plays the character of Jordan: a blue eyeliner and sequin string-vest wearing man who, intoxicated by the flirt of danger, joins Wes (played by Harris Dickinson) in his car to pick up MD from a trap house nearby. On the surface, it plays into the trope of queer men vying for the attention and respect of their heteronormative oppressors, the lure of a bad decision heightening the sexual appeal of the situation. But if you stick with it, the movie manages to warp into something unexpected. “In a way, we were confronting our own creative heterophobia in the same way Jordan is forced to confront his literal one in the film,” Ping and Sam say.

The movie is just at the start of its film festival journey, with other screenings hopefully lined up throughout 2021. For now though, here’s an exclusive first look at Paapa Essiedu and Harris Dickinson in Femme.

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Paapa Essiedu