Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Breaking Gender Barriers Since 2001


I can’t even describe what this film did to my brain. All I know is this film was absolutely amazing and a must see. It’s complexity and ambiguity rattle the brain but in a gratifying and satisfying way.

Since I was only eight years old when this film came out and grew up in a fairly conservative home , I had no idea this movie even existed until over a week ago and that is a total shame. This is a cult classic film that should be know about and viewed by all generations because it is that mind blowing. What I mean when I say this film breaks gender barriers, I mean it does just that. Completely breaks barriers. You are almost forced to critically think about the complexities and social constructs of gender during this film other wise you don’t get the full effect on what this film is trying to accomplish. I believe the director wants your brain to hurt while you watch the film so you are inclined to rethink gender and sexuality.

A little background:

The story of Hedwig is so complex and there is so much crammed into this film that if I had to give a overview of the film I would be writing a novel so I’ll give you the shortened version to save my time, your time, and so I don’t spoil all of the film. Long story short, Hedwig is born male and is socialized as such in Berlin during the time when the Berlin wall was causing strife within Germany. Hedwigs name is Hanzel growing up and he identifies as a gay man. He falls in love with a man who’s intentions are to basically use Hedwig for a green card marriage. In order for the marriage to be “legit” he convinces Hedwig to get a sex change which is botch by the doctor creating the “angry inch.” Hedwig now actually becomes Hedwig and starts to identify as a woman and moves to the United States. The green card marriage is just the beginning to Hedwig’s shit luck with people and life. Hedwig is an amazing singer/song writer and shares her talents with a young man, Tommy, whom she met on a babysitting gig. They eventually fall in love and you guessed it, the young man breaks her heart, steals her songs, and becomes a major pop star leaving Hedwig in the dust where she only books gigs at sea food restaurants. Hedwig starts a law suit against Tommy which seems like she’ll never win. Hedwig cannot catch a break, her career is failing, her heart is broken, and her identity as Hedwig does not feel right. She takes her stress out on her band members which one of them is married to Hedwig and is portraying a man. These two are battling identities that don’t feel right to them and in the end they are not able to fight how they are anymore whom ever that may be. The ending of the film is really interesting. It shows Hedwig completely nude walking down a dark ally way.


What does this film mean:

I think this movie is completely legendary. People are allowed to interpret the film through their perspective and they can decide for themselves the the film means to them. This aspect of the film might seem frustrating to most since the messages and meanings of the film are loud and clear. To quote Hart “being ambiguous becomes its greatest strength” (2009). I think being ambiguous is absolutely genius because it forces you to think and you can conclude what ever feels right to you. For me, I thought the film was over all saying BE WHO YOU WANT TO BE. If you are portraying something you are not, you will be completely unhappy and life will be unsatisfying. I also think another major take away from this film are that labels are bull shit is gross. I remember in my queer film class discussion we were trying to decipher Hedwig’s labels like what were their pronouns, identity, and sexuality is. The answer, who effing cares? Honestly why can’t Hedwig just be Hedwig? Not being able to put labels on Hedwig is what helps break down the barriers of gender and sexuality. “Having to look at the film through a unique cultural lens creates a more profound message of sexuality and gender” (Hart, 2009). Since Hedwig’s story is so complex you are steered to empathize and identify with Hedwig which in turn leads people to be pro queer (Hsu, 2011).


All in all, this profound film makes the soul happy and you must watch it because 1) it advocates for queer lives, 2) it forces individuals to critically think about their own identity and what label mean, and 3) it’s revolutionary. Oh, and did I mention it’s a musical?


Hart, K. 2009. The incredibly queer adventures of hedwig and the angry inch. Print. p. 57-64.

Hsu, W. 2011. Reading and queering plato in hedwig and the angry inch. Print. p. 103- 117.

Mitchell, J. C. 2001. Hedwig and the angry inch. United States: Killer Films.


One thought on “Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Breaking Gender Barriers Since 2001

  1. tkflix says:

    I think this is a universal film, too. The “be who you are” sentiments are just as important, in many ways, as the queer sensibilities that are foregrounded.


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