The lesbian icon turned ‘homophobic’ villain

She shot to fame in May for playing a blue-haired lesbian in the award-winning 'Blue is the Warmest Colour,' but this week, Léa Seydoux was at the centre of a 'lesbophobia' storm when she implied that lesbians were not as beautiful as straight women.

The lesbian icon turned 'homophobic' villain
Léa Seydoux (R), receives a kiss from Adèle Exarchopoulos, who plays her lesbian lover in the Palme d'Or-winning 'Blue is the Warmest Colour." Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP

Who’s Léa Seydoux?

She’s an award-winning 28-year-old actress and model.

Why is she in the news this week?

Seydoux was featured in the August issue of French Grazia, the women’s fashion and gossip magazine, and gave a lengthy interview, during which she made controversial comments about lesbians and female beauty.

Tell me more.

While speaking about her own self-image, Seydoux said the following:

“There have been moments where I’ve found myself pretty and sexy, but there are times when I find myself much less beautiful – a bit of a lesbian, you could say (laughs).”

The actress did immediately try to qualify her remarks by adding: "I’m not saying that lesbians aren’t beautiful," but the damage was done.

The reaction in France has been partly scathing and partly bemused. Some commentators, particularly from the LGBT community, have condemned her and her remarks as stupid, offensive and homophobic.

Others, however, have expressed their confusion as to why Seydoux’s comments have been so forcefully criticized.

Why is it such a big deal, then?

Well, there’s a certain irony in Seydoux saying what she said. Although she’s had roles in several high-profile movies like Inglorious Basterds and Midnight in Paris, she’s best known for portraying a lesbian on screen.

Seydoux became a bit of an overnight superstar in France and beyond when she won the coveted Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for ‘La Vie d’Adele – Chapitre 1 & 2’, a film entitled ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ in the English-speaking world.

In it, she plays Emma, a blue-haired art student who falls in love with 15-year-old Adèle (played by Adèle Exarchopoulos).

The film, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, has been the subject of a lot of controversy, with one reviewer claiming it contains “the most explosively graphic lesbian sex scenes in recent memory.”

And that’s even before ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ has been released in cinemas, which will happen in October.

Seydoux (L) kisses 'Blue is the Warmest Colour' director Abdellatif Kechiche after the film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in May. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Give us a flavour of how people have been reacting in France.

One commenter on Twitter denounced Seydoux in no uncertain terms:

“Lesbophobia is homophobia + sexism. Léa Seydoux is intellectual emptiness + vanity.”

20 Minutes journalist Alice Coffin, who is herself gay, also accused Seydoux of lesbophobia.

“I think the crass idiocy of Léa Seydoux is only a flavour of the lesbophobia that will surround the release of ‘La Vie d’Adèle.’”

LGBT website Yagg has led the charge against Seydoux, however. Co-founder Xavier Héraud said on Twitter: “Léa Seydoux – you’re really good in ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour,’ but please don’t talk any more about lesbians.”

On Monday, Yagg journalist Julien Massilon claimed: “Léa Seydoux thinks there’s no such thing as a feminine lesbian.”

That fury, however, has prompted a bit of a backlash, with many defending the actress. 

“Yagg is going a bit too far,” said  @Cam_mat on Twitter.

“Léa Seydoux isn’t saying that lesbians are masculine. Just that the role she played is.”

Other observers also castigated those criticising Seydoux. "Here we go, we're off again with these half-baked interpretations of Léa Seydoux's interview about 'Adèle.' Honestly, just stop," said @ToughCookie4 on Twitter.

"A whole lot of noise about nothing," said another.

Seydoux poses after the 2009 Cesar Awards. Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP

What's next for Seydoux?

She hasn't made any comment on the 'lesbophobia' controversy since her interview with Grazia, and is currently busy promoting her new movie, 'Grand Central.' In it, she stars as a married woman who has an affair with a man who works at a nuclear power station, played by Tahar Rahim.

We can probably expect her to be in the headlines once again in October, when 'Blue is the Warmest Colour' is released to the public in both France and the US.

She will also be featuring next year in American director Wes Anderson's new film 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' along with Ralph Fiennes and Jude Law.

Here is Seydoux in 'Blue is the Warmest Colour,' discussing Jean-Paul Sartre and Bob Marley (clip from FilmFestivalVideos).

And here she is, starring opposite Tahar Rahim in 'Grand Central,' which is released in France on August 28th.

The Local's French Face of the Week is a person in the news who – for good or ill – has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as French Face of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

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How gay friendly is gay Paris?

The French capital has many nicknames, one of them being “gay Paris”. To be fair, this was in reference to the word’s original meaning of “cheerful” rather than homosexuality, but to celebrate Lesbian Visibility Day we’re taking a look at just how gay-friendly “gay Paris” really is.

How gay friendly is gay Paris?
The 2014 Gay Pride parade in Paris. Photo: AFP

From the vibrant Gay Pride parade to the rainbow-washed Marais district, let’s take a closer look at the gay scene in Paris.

One of the world’s most fabulous gay pride parades

Photo: AFP

The annual pride march, la Marche des fiertés, will this year include a parade from Concorde to Republique.

Held on Saturday, June 29, the 2019 event is expected to attract more than half a million people.

Photo: AFP

As well as the parade with floats, there will be musical acts including Rag, Gang Bambi, Kiddy Smile, Arnaud Rebotini and Rebeka Warrior.

A ‘queer’ capital for over 100 years

“It's good to be gay in Paris because no one really cares that much,” Bryan Pirolli, co-founder of The Gay Locals told The Local. “I never feel like I stand out. Gay men and straight men have similar senses of style so everyone kind of blends together.”
“It's historically such a gay mecca, so everyone is used to it and there's less prejudice,” he added.
Indeed, Paris has been seen as a bit of a gay haven since the early 20th century. 

You might know the Marais as the beating heart of the queer capital, but it only became the gay centre of Paris relatively recently in the 1980s. 

Long before that in the early 1900s, gay people gathered in Montmartre and Pigalle.

“In the first part of the 20th century, the visibility of such well-known figures as Natalie Barney or André Gide, as well as the flamboyance of meeting places in Montmartre or Pigalle, helped to construct the image of Paris as a ‘queer’ capital,” wrote Florence Tamagne in the 2014 book Queer Cities, Queer Cultures: Europe since 1945.

In the mid-20th century the gay hub moved to Saint-Germain-des-Pres in the sixth arrondissement, and by the 1960s it had shifted again to Rue Saint Anne in the first. 

Although this street has now been taken over by Japanese restaurants, you can still find a few of these historical venues, the last remainders of some of the best gay nightclubs of the 60s and 70s. 

The Marais: the City of Light’s favourite gayborhood

Photo: Loic Lagarde/Flickr

These days, it is indeed the Marais that can claim to be the gay centre of Paris. This vibrant, trendy neighborhood, which spreads across parts of the the third and fourth arrondissements, is an internationally renowned “gayborhood”.

Rainbow flags and penis-shaped baked goods abound in this area, with the southwestern portion especially awash with gay-friendly establishments, gay bars, and gay nightclubs such as Le Depot, one of the largest gay clubs in Europe.

Photo: Legay Choc/Facebook

It’s been the gay heart of Paris since 1980s, with the first gay bar opening in 1978. The oldest existing gay bar in the Marais is the Duplex, opened in 1980.

But there’s more to gay Paris than the Marais

But although it’s the epicentre, the Marais isn’t the only hotspot for gays in Paris.

Pigalle is another neighborhood popping with gay-friendly nightlife. 

Then there's the famous nightclub Le Queen on the Champs-Elysées. Although it’s now more gay-friendly than strictly a gay nightclub, it was the place to be for gays in Paris in its 90s heyday, when French DJ David Guetta served as its artistic director.

Gay Olympics in Paris

Photo: Gay Games Official Website

In 2018 Paris hosted the 10th edition of the Gay Games, an inclusive sporting and cultural event that draws in thousands from around the world to “foster and augment the self-respect of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and all sexually-fluid or gender-variant individuals (LGBT+) throughout the world,” according to the official website

Open-minded locals

Photo: AFP

Paris got some bad press in 2013 when thousands marched in protest of recently-legalized gay marriage.

But in general, “Parisians are very open-minded,” Gilles Bry of Paris Gay Village, an association promoting LGBT tourism, told The Local. “In Paris like in the rest of France, we don’t have too many problems of homophobia.”

Bry says the anti-gay marriage protesters were mainly “Catholics who represented just a small minority. When we measure the public opinion in polls, they are very favorable for gay marriage.”

France compared to the rest of the world

France as a whole ranks fifth place on the Spartacus Gay Travel Index, a global comparison based on factors such as anti discrimination legislation, marriage and civil partnership, LGBT marketing, anti-gay laws, hostile locals, prosecution, and murders.  

France came in behind winner Sweden, the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The US on the other hand ranked much farther down the list in 36th place.

READ ALSO: Ten things you didn’t know about gay Paris

By Katie Warren