“We’re Bikini Kill and we want revolution girl-style now!” roared punk feminist frontwoman Kathleen Hanna at a 1991 Bikini Kill performance of their song “Double Dare Ya.” What started as a war cry during their riotous live shows—demanding liberation from sexual harassment, gendered violence, and the shadowy tendrils of capitalism—quickly cemented into a mantra for a new generation of alt-queer punks and riot grrrls.
Director, editor, and producer Maria Breaux taps into the bratty ferocity and cries for revolution of the 1990s riot grrrl movement with her crowdfunded feature film Vulveeta, premiering as part of the 40th iteration of Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival.
Vulveeta feels spiritually indebted to the improvised mockumentary style popularized by Christopher Guest and Rob Reiner’s 1984 comedy This Is Spinal Tap, which documents self-serious English rockers Spinal Tap as they tour in promotion of their salacious new album Sniff the Glove. Breaux’s San Francisco-set comedy rewrites the subgenre with queer BIPOC verve, featuring original songs recorded by the cast and a soundtrack from scene staples like Bratmobile, Tribe 8, The Homobiles, and Bikini Kill.
The title was inspired by a long-running joke between StormMiguel Florez (coproducer and editor who plays the character Gordonx Garcia) and a friend he’d met while playing in a lesbian rock band in early 90s Albuquerque, New Mexico. “My best friend Fara would always joke that she had a band she’d call Vulveeta and she would start talking about her band as if it existed . . . I started feeding the rumor mill anytime somebody would miss my show,” Florez said.
Eventually, people within the community buzzed about the enigmatic invented band, with Florez cheekily telling friends who just missed his shows that they didn’t catch their incredible opening act Vulveeta. By the time Breaux was deciding on a name for the film, Florez suggested—with permission—the long-fabled Albuquerque jest.
Vulveeta stars Breaux as narcissist punk rocker Grrrilda Beausoleil, who abruptly abandoned the titular 90s riot grrrl band as they teased the edge of notoriety. Now 20 years later with a documentary crew in tow, Grrrilda’s turning 50 and wants to rally the troops once more for a reunion show, but a lot has changed from the days of stickering and zine-making.
Grrrilda’s become something of a new age punk. “She’s done all these healing modalities, from going to Peru on an Ayahuasca retreat to past life regressions—but still on the verge of having a meltdown at any moment and so on,” Breaux said.
Bass guitarist Jett Groan (J Aguilar) is more than willing to let bygones be bygones and get the band back together, perhaps if only to languish after Grrrilda. Killer Child (Dakota Billops-Breaux)—previously the two-year-old drummer for the punk unit (nothing more hardcore than hiring a baby to blitzkrieg the drums)—is now in her early 20s and goes by the name KC. She’s taking a gap year from college due to a “lack of funds” and Vulveeta’s hasty reunion may just be her ticket out of her latest gig in lawn furniture upkeep.
Not everyone is eager about Grrrilda’s return. Rhythm guitarist and avid dog-enthusiast Gordonx is still bitter about the breakup, having to pick up the pieces of Vulveeta after Grrrilda’s swift exit. And former bandmate Susan Strapp (Ruby Goldberg) wants absolutely nothing to do with the band, telling Grrrilda’s film crew through her apartment intercom to piss off and stay away.
Alongside their money-centered manager (Lydia Tremayne) and their newest, nerves-ridden backing vocalist Harriet (Sarah Korda), Vulveeta prepares for their reconciliation show as they skewer the progressive feminist punk movement, new age aphorisms, and Bay Area culture with sincerity and grit.
Breaux even snags cameos from Lynn Breedlove of the queer Californian ride-sharing service and band of the same name The Homobiles, and Alison Wolfe of Bratmobile, music journalist and cofounder of the riot grrrl movement.
“I didn’t want to co-opt a movement, you know?” Breaux said. “I wasn’t quite part of the movement and it was important for me to hear from leaders and someone that was an expert in that perspective—to honor the musicians.”
Riot grrrl began as a political movement and music scene in 1991 when women from Washington, D.C., and Olympia, Washington, got together to address the long-standing sexism and harassment they received from the primarily white male punk scene. The Riot Grrrl Manifesto was published that same year in Bikini Kill’s second fanzine, a call to arms for women to upend the male domain of punk rock and establish safe spaces for women free from harassment. What followed was a half-decade-long revolution in which riot grrrls raised consciousness through handmade fanzines and distributed their music on cassettes and CDs with DIY tactility.
Aguilar recalls being on the peripheries of the movement, even cutting and pasting together a couple zines using photocopies from the long-extinct Kinko’s. “I tried to steal some photocopies; we would sneak in there and make the zines and hand them out at shows,” they said.
Florez connected with riot grrrl’s aesthetics and practicality. “Even though I wasn’t as connected with the riot grrrl scene, I was definitely connected to a lot of queer scenes and people doing DIY . . . so I definitely had those influences,” Florez said.
Vulveeta influences stretch beyond the 90s punk sensibility, indebted to the slow cultural shift away from the studio audience sitcom towards the cinéma vérité-inspired mockumentary comedy, complete with talking heads and colorful confessionals.
Breaux attributes the broad appeal of the mockumentary to “so many years of reality TV under our belts culturally.” Seminal reality shows like The Real World and Keeping Up with the Kardashians mined the facet of their subjects’ perceptual awareness for layered comedy and occasional depth, while mockumentaries like The Office (both the UK and American productions), Modern Family, and Parks and Recreation propelled those farcical elements into greater popular culture.
Breaux says she and the cast discovered that same freedom Christopher Guest found within his improvisational comedies, allowing them to move past the specificities of the dialogue, open up, and just play.
It’s fitting then that Breaux uses the mockumentary genre for her improvised spoof, which feels tailor-made for underdogs, the undermined, and those seeking redemption. But the queer revolution isn’t destined to stick to this script forever. Aguilar believes this is only the beginning for independent cinema made for and by queer people of color.
“Whether it’s a mockumentary or any kind of genre, we’re [LGBTQ+ people] ready to be at the center,” Aguilar said. “Finally, we’re ready for it.”
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Olympia, Washington, was good to Nomy Lamm. It’s the kind of place, says Lamm, “where I can say ‘what big huge crazy project do I want to work on right now?’” and due to the tight DIY community it can actually happen. Lamm, a self-described “fatass-jew-queer-amputee-performance artist-writer-activist,” first gained national attention in 1993 when, at…