Mädchen in uniform (1931 Germany Sagan) was one of the first films to treat lesbian love openly and univocally which meant it could easily have provoked a scandal. But when Mädchen was screened in Belgian theatres in 1932 the film was applauded by film critics and the public alike. You would think that mädchen didn't stand much of a chance of making it uncut past the Belgian Board of Film Classification let alone please the often more severe Catholic Film Classification. Surprisingly it did. Catholic film guides called it a masterpiece and the film reached its adult (16+) audience unharmed. Scholars like Richard Dyer suggest that this is due to the fact that contemporary viewers weren't really aware of the lesbian theme but that assumption is highly questionable. All over the world censorship boards cut the film's most 'lesbian scenes' and newspaper articles often mentioned the exaggerated attraction between the two protagonists - a teacher and her pupil. So what was it that didn't provoke moral crusaders in Belgium to ban the film? First of all there is the all-female setting of the film. The women fall in love at a boarding school that is run and inhabited by women and girls only. In that sense the love between the two women forms no real threat to patriarchal society since the film suggests the attraction is only a surrogate for heterosexual love. Moreover one of the protagonists is an adolescent girl who still has to explore her own sexuality and who - according to Freud who is frequently cited in Belgium - has to go through a homosexual phase in order to become a mature heterosexual woman. And of course critics could emphasize the anti-authoritarian theme rather than the lesbian subject. But the thing that saved mädchen most from being mutilated or criticised by reformers is the fact that from the very beginning the film was considered to be a work of art. And as an art film Mädchen was able to go considerably further in breaking taboos than any 'pure entertainment' film would ever have been allowed to do.

Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis

Depauw, Liesbet. (2009). Lof voor het onuitspreekbare.De Belgische receptie van het lesbische thema in Leontien Sagans Mädchen in Uniform (1932). Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis, 12(1), 73–92. doi:10.18146/tmg.563