Sadie Benning began making videos at age sixteen when her father, experimental filmmaker James Benning, gave her a pixelvision camcorder for Christmas. The Pixelvision is a small, hand-held, black and white video-camera marketed for children by Fisher-Price in the late 1980s.
Benning’s films intensely personal and autobiographical videos document the dreams, desires, fears, and fantasies of a teenage lesbian in the process of defining self, sexuality, and identity.
They delineate the social and sexual straitjacket that girls are expected to conform to, while working out strategies of transgression and rebellion in an effort to create an identity space beyond the boundaries of heterosexuality and gender conformity.
Combining defiance with a childlike innocence and vulnerability, Benning responds to a world that simultaneously ridicules and frightens her by retreating into the relative, but ultimately temporary, safety of her bedroom and a form of self-imposed exile. Ultimately, the reality of violence cannot be escaped or ignored and Benning is forced to confront her own vulnerability in a world that is often openly hostile and threatening to women and lesbians. The ridicule and alienation she encounters at school derive from her androgynous gender expression and her lesbian sexuality. However, she is quick to note that conformity to the rules of heterosexuality and the gender system, which are expressed most visibly for her by the image of the “good white girl”, is a representation that does little to provide any measure of protection for women in society.