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The Aggressives

Distributed by Seventh Art Releasing, 7551 Sunset Blvd., Suite 104, Los Angeles, CA 90046; 323-845-1455
Produced by Daniel Peddle
Directed by Daniel Peddle
DVD, color, 75 min.
College - Adult
Women's Studies, Gender Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies, Sociology, Criminology, Psychology, Performance Studies

Reviewed by Ciara Healy, Media Services Librarian, Wake Technical Community College, Raleigh, NC

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 1/9/2007

The Aggressives is a documentary that attempts to explain who “Aggressives” are by following several women - Aggressives - for a period of about five years. From the beginning, this film is about gender, somewhat about sexuality and all about race. Interestingly, race is not given much uptake in the somewhat forced discussions with the camera even though all of the Aggressives interviewed are of color. The principals are Marquise, Rjai, Tiffany, Flo, Octavia and Kisha who are all young lesbians, making their way in New York City.

Initially, the term Aggressives seems self chosen and that accounts for how these diverse women got to be grouped together since the Aggressives don’t necessarily know one another, they present their gender in different ways and socialize differently – some online, some via cell phone, some in bars. The first question that I asked is, “What is the difference between butch lesbians and Aggressives?” This film does not really make clear what the difference is or that there is a difference. Because the documentary does not specifically address how race inflects Aggressive identity we are left to ask further if the term Aggressive is self selected or is it the basis of a shared group identity or set of behaviors - is it a club, gang, subculture, type, style? Perhaps the filmmakers would argue that Aggressives are all of that and more, but I see the film more as an interesting look at women of color who are living as butch lesbians - their trials and tribulations given their queer daily existence. That daily existence is fascinating and includes, jail time, hysterectomies, children, joining the military and going AWOL, details about prison sex, working construction and competing in fashion shows or “balls” with other butch lesbians and drag queens.

The filmmakers attempt to address the definition of the term Aggressive by showing a series of responses to the unheard question, “What does being an Aggressive mean to you?” Each woman replies but their definitions quickly slip into talk about butch lesbian traits and identities, variously described as “wearing the pants in the relationship” to more explicit rules about who does what in bed, e.g. “I will not be penetrated.” Ultimately, I found the attempt to generate and then film the identity “Aggressive” to have a forced feel. The term Aggressive appears rarely in the film and the subjects speak eloquently about their gendered experience without reference to the term. When the subjects speak in their own words, the film becomes riveting.

The women’s lives and reflections on their lives make The Aggressives compelling to watch though it is difficult sometimes to differentiate between the subjects. Because the film was made over a period of five years, the changes and choices made by the subjects become less about their Aggressiveness and more about the vicissitudes of life. You can hardly blame the filmmakers for being charmed and compelled by their subjects. There are so many fascinating hints that the subjects toss out – about high school experiences, absent fathers, breaks ups– that leave you wanting to know so much more.

For classroom use, The Aggressives has a lot of potential to generate reactions and discussion of gender, race, and sexual identity as well as the conventions and limits of documentary filmmaking. The Aggressives is highly recommended mainly because it is provocative; as a tool for generating discussion it can work really well. The women filmed provide thoughtful and insightful descriptions of their gendered experience which alone would make this documentary a good resource for women’s studies classes or other classes that explore gender roles such as sociology, psychology and criminology.


  • Best Documentary, Rhode Island International Film Festival 2005
  • Juried Award, Best Documentary Feature, Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival 2005
  • Audience Award, Best Documentary, Philadelphia Int'l G&L Film Festival 2005