Anti-Queerness and the Pinkification of Allison of 'The Breakfast Club'
"Not everything is pretty in pink"
Queer-coded characters exist in our favorite movies across all genres of film. Queerness is not inherently able to be defined succinctly and broadly, but when you know, you know. If they aren’t the villains, read: Jafar from Aladdin, Maleficent or even the Babadook, queer-coded characters are instantly recognized by queer audiences. It’s either a messy shag of hair, baggy, loose-fitting clothes, all-black attire and lesbian-esque black platform boots, or maybe it’s the sarcasm and the innate sexuality that they possess. These characters are never explicitly given queer backstories. It’s all a guessing game, but in some instances, there are deliberate instances of “straight-washing” these characters to make a point about queerness being an aberration.
Allison Reynolds, played by Ally Sheedy in the classic John Hughes film The Breakfast Club, is an unquestionable non-binary lesbian restricted by a cis/straight plotline. Tumblr days were inundated with images and profile pictures of her and her iconic mane and dark eyeliner. I have always believed that she is queer. Even more so after seeing how bent Hughes was in washing away her queerness in the film’s pivotal makeover scene.
Allison, as the presumed secondary villain of the young bunch, is cloaked in black from head to toe. When Bender is not wreaking havoc, Allison takes on the role of antagonist—leering from the back corner of the library as they all interact. And when she does speak, it’s a few short words either mumbled menacingly or shouted behind teary, erratic eyes. Her being queer coded is a way to paint her as the antithesis to the clean-cut counterparts of Bryan, Andy and Claire, and as an extreme version of Bender, whose mischief is painted as the result of bad home life. As the “basket case” of the group, Allison isn’t given room to grow beyond that label in the ways others can from their own labels. The transition that they put her through into becoming a Claire copycat reinforces the notion that the only thing wrong with her is her divergence from the cisgender, heterosexual normativity that the other kids are experiencing.
Breakfast Club itself sets up an undertone of homophobia and general anti-queerness. The characters surrounding Allison all fit some sort of cisheteronormative standard. From Claire as the girly girl in pink, Andy as the macho athlete, Bender as the bad boy with a nameless amount of girlfriends and Bryan as the virgin nerd just wanting to do well in school and being unable to control his sexual urges. The film was released in 1985, only 12 years after homosexuality was removed by the American Psychiatric Association from the list of mental illnesses. That history and aftermath leaks into the larger narrative of the film as Allison is perceived as both the most mentally ill, and the one with the closest queer aesthetic.
In the first 15 minutes, Andy hurls the f slur at Bender and in retort Bender mocks how wrestling, Andy’s sport, has homoerotic aspects to it. Later, when questioning Bender’s dating life, Claire asks him if he doesn't “believe in just one girl and one guy,” telling him that that’s the “way it should be.” For an audience not used to listening out for statements like this, it reads just as a part of their characters. But in having 3 out of 5 members of the cast participate in anti-queer rhetoric, it establishes a distinct tone in opposition to those who are not cisgender and straight.
This is why Allison’s transition out of her literal black sheep uniform provides a catharsis for the cis-hetero audience. This comes from transforming her into a mini-me of Claire, without much attention to her backstory as a mentally troubled and isolated teenager unable to fit in any of the factions of her high school. (Read: the typical story of most closeted queer kids in high school.) This makeover that Claire forces upon her is what the film attempts at a character resolution for Allison. It counteracts a previous interaction that she has with Bryan and Andy while they’re high and on the verge of becoming more intimate friends.
In an offer of her own friendship, Allison empties the contents of her bag to the annoyance of the other two, and Bryan asks her if she’s going to be a “shopping bag lady” when she grows up, cursed to sit “in alleyways, talk to buildings and wear men’s shoes.” Again, Allison is connected to not only a life of isolation, but a life in which she doesn’t adhere to the gender binary, and that is portrayed as a thing only “crazy” people like her do.
The “pinkification” of Allison by Claire is edited with a flourish of candy-sweet synth vocals as she enters the room. This is only the second time she has been centered in the gaze of the others. The other occurrence was while they were playing a game asking what one would do for a million dollars. Allison responds to being asked if she would drive to school naked for that amount of money and she responds with, “I’ll do anything sexual. I wouldn’t need a million dollars to do it either...I’ve done just about everything there is except a few things that are illegal. I'm a nymphomaniac.” She then reveals that she is a compulsive liar. Both these statements are received with disgust and confusion by everyone else, and there is no investigation into her personal backstory. Instead, the film opts to favor everyone else’s home struggles, which are centered on heteronormative issues such as their parents’ marriages, straight dating, grades, and living up to an athletic standard. So, the first time that Allison is truly centered, is here, as she waltzes back out to the group in an outfit miraculously designed by Claire, fairy godmother style.
This is what is left remaining of Allison. She doesn’t even receive any last words, keeping true to her character having the least lines and a lack of personal development. In exchange for her willingness to be made over, she has been given the gift of the male gaze. Andy now is enamored with her, although he was previously indifferent about her life at home and the lack of detail she has given about herself in comparison to the others. Her autonomy is non-existent, and this is done to erase the single character that could have been read as uninterested in the cisheteronormative patriarchy that their social circles run by.
Actress Ally Sheedy herself even said that she did not want her character to go through that makeover, but the scene reads as a way to demonstrate that while all the characters have their own problems, Allison’s is easily solvable with a misogynistic, overly-feminized look that rids her of the thing that made her queer within the cohort of the teens she is placed in.