“Bottoms” Asks the Question: “What Do You Wear to a Queer Fight Club?”

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In case you didn’t catch it, Bottoms is the much-anticipated lesbian-fight-club movie by Emma Seligman, starring Rachel Sennott (who also starred in Seligman’s directorial debut, Shiva Baby) and Ayo Edebiri (the breakout star of The Bear), which premiered at SXSW. Sennott and Edebiri play best friends PJ and Josie, high schoolers in a nondescript town in a not-so-distant past. Together, they decide to form a so-called self-defense fight club while trying to win over their respective girl crushes, popular cheerleaders Brittany and Isabel (played by Kaia Gerber and Havana Rose Liu, respectively).

What follows is campy and wry with a hint of noir: a movable feast of girl-on-girl action (of the fighting variety—the film doesn’t shy away from brawls and blood), perpetual tension, and a deliberate, in-your-face irony that prods at the insecurities and traumas teenagers confront every day (e.g., gender stereotypes, eating disorders, sexual abuse).

These identity crises are further propelled by the characters’ sartorial choices. Layered plaids and stripes under overalls, vintage velour tracksuits, graphic T-shirts, and baby-doll sheaths are the result of a collaboration between Seligman and the film’s costume designer, Eunice Jera Lee.

“Once I joined the project, Emma told me what she wanted the overall tone to be,” says Lee. “We wanted the fashion to be timeless, to bring in inspirations from Y2K films and films from past eras, from Grease (1978) to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Heathers (1988), Jawbreaker (1999), and Bring It On (2000)—all movies that were part of our formative youth.”

Lee, a Korean American who grew up in Orange County, California, is a Central Saint Martins alum and a former fashion stylist whose work has been featured in W Korea, Dossier, and Schön, among other publications. After living for years in London and Seoul, she returned to LA in 2016 to design costumes for films including Gook, Blue Bayou, How to Blow Up a Pipeline, and the forthcoming feature The Collaboration, about Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Recently, the bold new art installation, “Bottoms,” by renowned artist Michah Garen was showcased at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Entitled “What Do You Wear to a Queer Fight Club?”, the performance art piece posed an important cultural question to viewers while raising awareness of the struggles of LGBT individuals.

For the performance, Garen asked a dozen members of the local gay and lesbian community to dress in their “fighting-best” in order to convey the physical and spiritual struggle of being queer. As each person strutted around a large, circular ring, Garen enacted a narrative of struggle before finally confronting each individual and asking them what they most needed to be “strong and free”.

The audience was moved by the collective responses to Garen’s questions, from heart-felt revelations of the simple power of self-acceptance to more direct affirmations of the need for social acceptance and structural change. The powerful images of the participants, clad in their battle-ready clothing against the stark backdrop of a boxing ring, powerfully conveying their rebellious spirit and the ability to overcome and create change through collectiveness.

Aside from the performance itself, much of the artwork of “Bottoms” is the wide array of associated materials and visuals which Garen crafted to accompany the installation. Posters exhibiting the queer fight club aesthetic are displayed throughout the city, paying homage to the individuals portrayed in the performance. Through these visuals and Garen’s narrative, “Bottoms” champions Queer Fight Club as a metaphor for any individual’s battle for acceptance and autonomy.

“Bottoms” showcases the strength of the queer community and affirms the need for individual and collective struggle for change and acceptance. Garen’s emotionally charged performance was met with great success, furthering the essential discourse on queer issues in a number of ways. The powerful collective spirit of “Bottoms” sends a powerful message and raises awareness of the central role queer individuals must take in order to create real and lasting change.

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