Friday, 30 September 2011

Fried Green Tomatoes and Censorship At The Whistlestop Café

Novel by Fannie Flagg and Film of the same title


I think it's likely that more people have seen the movie than read the book. After all, it was made into a movie with Kathy Bates and Mary Louise Parker that is available on DVD for about $10 at most supermarkets, from time to time. But herein lies the problem, because the question is, is the heart of a novel still preserved when censorship determines we hide the full story?

Now in some movies, things are changed a little to please the censors, we all know this, but with this movie, the studio decided to hide a fundamental part of the story. For those who don't know, the story, to begin with at least, is about a wild girl, Idgie, who falls for a town girl, Ruth, one summer. At the end of the summer, Ruth goes back to where she is from and marries her fiancé. He is abusive, and she writes to Idgie to come rescue her. The two start up a café, and care for her child together. While the word lesbian is never mentioned, references clearly point to others realising their relationship, Idgie's mother saying she has a 'crush' on Ruth, and the lecture Idgie's father gives her about taking care of Ruth and the baby that makes it clear he knows she is taking on the role of wife and carer to Ruth.

What is perhaps the most surprising element of this is that everyone in town accepts the two of them living together, and I think most realises they are a couple, and they don't have a problem with this. What they do have a problem with is Idgie and Ruth serving black customers and being friends with the black people of the town. The issues that come up are the realities of race and the depression, and abusive husbands, and the sexuality is just seen as something normal and sweet, which is refreshing. There are never any sex scenes or attempt to sexualise the story, they just love each other, plain and simple.

The movie, on the other hand, completely denies the relationship between the two women, stating time and time again that they are friends only, and even (perhaps accidentally) implying that the old woman is Idgie (although in the book it is clear that she is not) and that she did get married and have a son after Ruth's death. Which is of course, completely untrue, as Idgie never looked at a man in her life. It even ends with the old lady saying that friends are the most important thing in life, hammering in the message, they were just friends.

Mary Louise Parker, who had actually read the book, was frustrated by the decision to hide the lesbian elements of the story, but was determined to take on the role, and, through her honest and understated acting style, convey all the unspoken emotions that her character would be feeling. I think she did a wonderful job, and it really makes me respect her as an actress. I saw the movie when I was a kid, having not yet read the book, I sensed that there was something more between the women, that there was love, but I think you have to be quite observant to pick this. I'm pretty sure that my parents never even picked up on it.

Even after discovering this act of subterfuge, however, I was still unable to hate the movie, because all of the actresses put such passion and love into their roles, and you do feel for them, and also because, as I said, I think that somehow, the love between Idgie and Ruth still shines through, despite the attempts to hide it. However, I think we also have to think about the world we live in and why and how a book about the love between two women could be so censored.

Fried Green Tomatoes on Wikipedia

Women's Studies in Communication article on polysemy in Fried Green Tomatoes

Entertainment Weekly article. I think it's a bit offensive how the director says he 'didn't want to go into the bedroom', the book was never sexually explicit at all, it's as if he's saying he couldn't show the women as lesbians without sexualising the film, which is complete Bull$#!^. Excuse the language, but that kind of attitude is...

These are both links from the wikipedia article, there are lots of other articles out there. I know the ones I found when I originally looked it up a few years ago were different ones, but it's been a long time, and I've forgotten which sites I visited. The book is truly excellent, and you should really read it if you get a chance! Don't worry, it's not a soppy love story, there's racial tension and murder!

Oh, and the book has a collection of old Southern recipes at the back, including those fried green tomatoes. 

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