One of the issues that came up quickly while watching Sausage Party was the depiction of Teresa (the taco) as an intensely sexualized woman of color. But while I continued watching the movie, this depiction became only part of the issue, as her character simultaneously perpetuated the idea of queer aggression while reducing her character to simple heterosexual eroticism of lesbian relationships. In this way, it remains clear that queer people of color are threatening to the straight while male culture, which is why they are often reduced to a fetish.
The idea of eroticizing women of color is not new. In “Racialized and Colonial Bodies,” Margo DeMello writes, “Even today, non-white women are often thought to be more sexual, erotic, and exotic than white women” (87). Teresa is clearly depicted in a much more sexualized way than Brenda (the bun). For example, Teresa is initially introduced as a sexy character, but once her sexual desire for Brenda was revealed, it became her defining characteristic, whereas the other characters have more depth. As described by Devon W. Carbado in “Privilege,” her “homosexuality signifies ‘difference’ – more specifically, sexual identity distinctiveness” (142). This distinction is enough to define her character, whereas heteronormative characters are afforded something more to describe them.
On top of the fact that she is eroticized and reduced to a mere sexual orientation, she also perpetuates an idea of queer aggression. White men have been threatened by men of color stealing their women, as illustrated when DeMello writes, “For many whites, African Americans are still considered to be threatening” (83). Sausage Party depicts a similar pattern in being threatened by queer women. Teresa is very forward and aggressive in her pursuit of Brenda. It really isn’t mutual at all. Brenda remains the prize and Teresa must compete with Frank and other men to “win” her. In this way, she presents a threat of beating Frank and stealing Brenda from him. There is no conversation about Brenda’s sexual orientation she is simply a body to be fought over.
It seems odd to think about the fact that a queer woman of color would be depicted in a film clearly created for male hegemonic audience until you actually see the movie and realize that she has been totally skewed and simply put there to entertain the male gaze. Her relationship with Brenda is not a hopeful representation of lesbian relationships in mainstream media. Instead it plays into the idea that lesbians relationships are for the pleasure of the male viewer. Much like lesbian porn clearly created to viewed by straight men instead of actual queer women. Teresa’s character is not helpful to the community she represents as she is shown in a very shallow way that does nothing but perpetuate negative stereotypes.
NOTE: This essay was written by a First-Year Experience (FYE) student in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies taught by Professor Heidi R. Lewis. FG110 teaches students how to examine power, inequality, and privilege along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, age, physicality, and other social, cultural, and political markers using multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches. Near the end of the block, the students visited a local theater to screen Sausage Party, and this essay was written in response.