Film Review: “Regarding Susan Sontag”

This film, as directed by Nancy Kates, provides in depth recall on Susan Sontag’s life. The film follows Sontag’s life and registers her personal life events on a timeline as defined by one of Sontag’s professional accolades. This film touches upon much more than just what she had achieved professionally. In fact, “Regarding Susan Sontag” sheds light more on her intricate personal life, which was occurring parallel to her professional life.

To say that this film is a film made to highlight Susan Sontag’s professional achievements would be false. Nancy Kates focuses the film much more on Sontag’s life events and merely uses her academic achievements as a bookmarker on the timeline that is her life. With that being said, Nancy Kates does divulge somewhat into Sontag’s literary career. Kates does so by giving insight into Sontag’s work with the use of interviews from friends, family and academic piers. However, Kates often does so with heavy focus and reference to Sontag’s closeted bisexuality.

It becomes immediately apparent that Nancy Kates was more interested in Susan Sontag as an influential personality and political figure as opposed to a writer. Kates’ focus on Sontag’s sexuality is very interesting given sexual binaries of her era. The sexual scripts of her era, especially when she was first attending Berkeley University, frowned upon sexual promiscuity with the same sex. That being said, Kates is perfectly able to show that despite these scripts and binaries Sontag was still able to pursue personal and professional achievements.

As the film progresses Kates brings to light how Sontag refused to come out of the closet, despite being pressured to by the gay community to do so.  Kates even mentions in the film a quote from Sontag in which Sontag confesses that she feels guilty for being queer (Kates, “Regarding Susan Sontag”). Kates seems to have used this quote to indirectly describe the compulsory heterosexuality that Sontag may have been experiencing both professionally and personally.

The narrative that is really presented throughout this film is that Sontag ran against binary thinking and conventional power structures. She did this to live a life that she wanted to live as well as achieve what she wanted to achieve.

To present this movie Nancy Kates embedded the use of interview footage of Susan Sontag. This footage is placed to follow accordingly with recorded interview footage of Sontag’s friends, family and piers. Each point on the timeline is connected by a narrator that often reads quotes from Sontag that usher in the new point on the timeline.

A scene that greatly stood out to me is where Sontag is quoted as saying “I am just becoming aware, of how guilty I feel being gay” (Kates, “Regarding Susan Sontag”). This stood out to me because it deals greatly with what we have discussed in class and our tutorials. Specifically the oppression constructed by cultural hegemony that is faced by those that do not abide by traditional sexual orientation. As touched upon in class the compulsory heterosexuality of society can really negatively affect those that are not heterosexual and cause individuals to not be happy with who they are. Nancy Kates presents Sontag as a strong individual who seems very comfortable with who she is. This speaks to how powerful oppression is on an individual’s mental state. This only reaffirms the fact that as a society we must break down the cultural hegemonic binary thinking that continues to instill oppression.

Attending this film seemed no different to me than when I view blockbuster films. The crowd seemed excited and no different than a crowd that views any other movie on any other day. While this may not seem like much, I believe that this is very uplifting. Typically in blockbuster movies there is a plethora of sexist undertones, intersectional interactions, racially stereotypical reinforcements and plenty of other underlying oppressive conduct. However, the films in this festival are made without these oppressive undertones and without them the audience acted no different. This proves that films do not need oppressive undertones to provide ticket sales. Films are a large part of popular culture. I believe that by eliminating sexist undertones, intersectional interactions, racially stereotypical reinforcements as well as other forms of oppressive conduct, we could greatly reduce the oppressive ideologies taught by popular culture.

Works Cited

Regarding Susan Sontag. Perf. Noël Burch, Lucinda Childs, Patricia Clarkson, Mark Danner, Nadine Gordimer. HBO Documentary Films, 2014. Film.


3 thoughts on “Film Review: “Regarding Susan Sontag”

  1. This sounds like a great film, and this review makes me want to see it! I’m curious about the timeline in which this film took place though. You mention that her bisexuality went against the sexual binaries of this time, but what time is that? I also completely agree with you about the quote, “I am just becoming aware, of how guilty I feel being gay”. It just goes to show how society can reinforce cultural hegemony, and how we need to take responsibility for this and change it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This film definitely sounds interesting and worth viewing. I liked your analysis of Susan Sontag’s quote about feeling guilty for being gay. I think it says a lot about society, not just at the time but also today. One thing I think could have been addressed was her career itself. For someone who isn’t familiar with her work, it would have been nice to have it been briefly explained. You also did a great job of explaining the environment and feel of the festival itself. Good job!


  3. Just by reading this review, I am interested in watching this film. As said by the other comments, your quote analysis is very good and intriguing. Your structure of your blog pot is very well planned out, I really like how your last sentence in the second last paragraph. “This only reaffirms the fact that as a society we must break down the cultural hegemonic binary thinking that continues to instill oppression.” You have a real good understanding of this film and the up rising issues it brings forward.


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