You’ve probably seen the meme: Megan Fox portraying high school cheerleader Jennifer in “Jennifer’s Body” discovering her inhuman qualities by burning her tongue with a hot pink lighter. Even if you haven’t seen the film, the scene has been plastered over social media. And the GIF has been credited with launching many queer awakenings.
“Jennifer’s Body,” released in 2009, was written by Diablo Cody, fresh off her Oscar win for “Juno,” directed by Karyn Kusama and stars Fox and Amanda Seyfried. A dark comedy filled with one-liners and oozing gore, it tells the story of popular cheerleader Jennifer, who is accidentally turned into a man-eating demon by a band of power-hungry men. Her loyal best friend, Needy (Seyfried), is strung along as Jennifer begins to devour the male inhabitants of their town.
During its release, the movie was considered a critical and commercial bust, earning $16.2 million at the U.S. box office and the scorn of critics and audiences alike. The dialogue was considered campy, and it seemed the marketed audience of teenage boys did not care for the queer-coded friendship and allegory about sexual violence.
But in recent years — particularly after the rise of the #MeToo movement — the horror flick has taken on cult status with the help of its queer fan base.
According to Fox, women often approach her about how she made them accept their sexualities. She told the New York Post earlier this month: “I can’t tell you how many girls, from 30 down into their teens … come up to me and are like, ‘I realized I was gay because of you,’ or ‘I felt comfortable coming out because of you,’ because of ‘Jennifer’s Body’ and the interviews I did about being bisexual before it was cool.”
The recent resurgence of “Jennifer’s Body” mirrors that of its star. Although the actress has been embroiled in Hollywood drama in the past, many articles have since been penned about how Hollywood owes the actress an apology. This year has been something of a revival for Fox, who has been the star of three films in 2021, graced the cover of GQ and drummed up the Internet applause with her VMA dress.
For fans of “Jennifer’s Body,” the buzz around the years-old film is a welcome development.
“I feel vindication,” said Amber Baird, a 34-year old IT manager and writer. A fan of the movie since 2010, she immediately identified with the main characters because of her sexuality, she said: “Being able to connect with the characters of Needy and Jennifer was really big for me.”
Although Baird and many others felt their sexualities were represented in the film, neither of the main characters are explicitly queer. (Cody, the director, did say in an interview with Fox in 2018 that she “always thought Needy was genuinely in love with Jennifer.”) There are sly sexual references throughout the film: Jennifer saying that she “goes both ways,” for example. There’s also a kiss between Needy and Jennifer as the latter spirals deeper into darkness. But queer fans say the film resonates because of more than just its sexual undertones.
Since the first lesbian vampire graced screens in 1936’s “Dracula’s Daughter,” audiences have been captivated by the coupling of horror and queerness. According to Andrew Owens, a lecturer at the University of Iowa and author of “Desire After Dark: Contemporary Queer Cultures and Occultly Marvelous Media,” queer horror by definition represents people who are in same-sex relationships or have same-sex encounters. But more broadly, Owens said, as “Jennifer’s Body” does for many fans, these movies destroy “the expectation of heteronormativity.”
Owens said that while there is some same-sex kissing in “Jennifer’s Body,” what spurs the queerness of the film is that “it is going after the toxic heterosexuality that is high school.” In other words, it portrays a period in a woman’s life that is so often dictated by masculinity in a genre — horror — that does the same. In a stark role reversal, “Jennifer’s Body” is a film written, directed by and starring women that relegates men to background characters and victims.
The influx of new queer fans has broadened the conversation of queer representation in the film, and what we expect of queer films, according to Rowan Ellis, a 29-year-old video essayist and co-host of “The Queer Movie Podcast.”
“You can definitely read [“Jennifer’s Body”] as a very obsessive female friendship that a lot of queer people can probably see reflected in their own relationship with their seemingly straight best friends when they were children,” said Ellis.
Ellis’s video, “Why Jennifer’s Body Flopped, Explained (hint: it’s sexism),” dissects the allegory of sexual violence in the film, as well as how its failure coincides with Fox’s experiences of sexism in Hollywood.
While “Jennifer’s Body” has a large queer following, Ellis said that it “doesn’t necessarily claim to be queer.” “If a film from that era claimed to be queer, it would probably be met with a lot more criticism,” Ellis added. “Because it was promising something and it might not have delivered.” Ellis believes movies that are explicitly queer can be subject to a lot more criticism in the community.
Dorothy Mannine is keyed into how queer audiences have interpreted the film. And for Mannine, known as @dorothymannine on TikTok, it’s about seeing yourself reflected in the film. Her video cosplaying as Jennifer and lip-syncing one of her iconic lines is captioned, “jennifer’s body was my gay awakening.” The video is just one of the over 21,000 that have been made using the sound on TikTok, and it has more than 22,000 likes.
“The first time I watched it I was more just captured by their tension,” Mannine said of Fox’s and Seyfried’s performances.
For Mannine, it was “a bi-awakening moment for me.”