Sylvia Scarlett: A Pivotal Moment for Queer Representation in Hollywood


  • Katie Lynch Trinity College Dublin


Queer Representation, Performativity, Sylvia Scarlett, Queen Christina, Morocco, Production Era Film, Gender & Sexuality in Hollywood, Censorship in Hollywood, Queer Coding in Film


This paper explores the significance of Sylvia Scarlett (1935) as a representation of queer women in Produc- tion Code cinema. It argues that two pre-code films, Morocco (1930) and Queen Christina (1933), set a precedent for the high level of queerness displayed in Sylvia Scarlett despite the strict Production Code censorship which prohibited what it termed ‘sex perversion’. This too, marked an end to the joyful expressions of queer- ness in Production Code film, as shown by the ways in which queer women were subsequently depicted until the MPAA rating system was instituted in 1968. Sylvia Scarlett was a pivotal moment for queer representation in Hollywood, building upon the steps taken in films released under an initially loose version of the Production Code. It espouses a fluid approach to gender and sexuality, celebrating its unconventional protagonist, whereas queer-coded characters in Production Code films thereafter carried immoral connotations and were often punished for their queerness.


Primary Source(s):
•, The Motion Picture Production Code Of 1930 (Hays Code), 31 March, 1930. (Accessed January 8, 2021).
• Aldrich, Robert. 1968; California: The Killing of Sister George. Palomar Pictures, The Associates and Aldrich. Film.
• Butler, David. Calamity Jane. 1953; California. Warner Bros. Film.
• Cukor, George. Sylvia Scarlett. 1935; California: RKO Radio Pictures. Film.
• Hitchcock, Alfred. Rebecca. 1940; California: Selznick International Pictures. Film.
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• Rydell, Mark. The Fox. 1967; California: Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, Inc.. Film.
• Sternberg, Joseph von. Morocco. 1930; California: Paramount Pictures. Film.
• Wanger, Walter. Queen Christina. 1933; California: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Film
• Wyler, William. The Children’s Hour. 1961; California: United Artists. Film.

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