I remember watching Black Swan with almost morbid fascination. In a particularly dark and psychologically tortuous scene, Mila Kunis goes down on Natalie Portman. The latter arches her back and throws back her head with abandon – and pretty much catapults the movie into Oscar recognition.
Cut to a movie called Blue Valentine. (For the uninitiated, this was a movie that starred Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams). The movie revolved around a married couple on the verge of getting divorced – till they have angry revenge sex in a motel one night. In a scene that almost mirrors Black Swan to the T, Gosling similarly pleasures his wife – earning the movie a big, fat NC-17 rating.
Black Swan, meanwhile, got away with the tamer ‘R’.
A little ‘ratings’ 101: The ‘R’ and ‘NC-17’ ratings are awarded by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) to movies, based on their sexual explicitness. While Black Swan (surprise, surprise) was awarded an ‘R’ (which means, a person under 17 must be accompanied by a parent), Blue Valentine was offered NC-17 (which is for movies with ‘pornographic sex scenes’) – with the oral sex scene cut to boot.
The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario which is both complicit and complex.Ryan Gosling (as reported in an article published in Everyday Feminism)
You go, Gosling!
Why are we so Used to a Sexual Status Quo in Movies?
So did Black Swan get away with it because of its overtly ‘lesbian sex’ overtones? Because it appeals to some sort of voyeuristic male fantasy?
Hollywood isn’t the only film industry where this is a problem. While Bollywood obviously has its own share of sex-on-screen problems – the primary being that homosexuality is tiptoed around like broken glass – it follows the same bedroom patterns.
Sex in cinema is very rarely about the woman, and most commonly about the man. In most cases, sex – if consensual – culminates with either the man climaxing or the two gyrating in absurdly identical fashion, to climax together.
How wonderfully realistic.
There was this one time I went to a theatre to watch Twilight with girlfriends from college (sigh, judge away, judge away). During one particular scene, Taylor Lautner – who plays general werewolf hottie – takes off tee and flexes abs (before turning into a mangy beast who howls at vampires).
I remember a theatre chock-full of women, whooping and whistling, while – here’s the clincher – the men with them – giggled, almost nervously. Fact is, we’re so used to the sexual status quo, so unused to the ‘female gaze’ as a counter to the ‘male gaze’ that any change always engenders a giggle or two. Mostly nervous.
Jism and Cocktail are Perfect Examples of Sexual Hypocrisy
Bollywood is worse off. Forget that homosexuality has little to no voice, taking refuge in hushed whispers and confusing innuendos – mainstream cinema too looks at sex from the point of view of the male lead.
Take even an out-and-out erotic thriller – like a Jism. Look past the veneer of evil-wife-who-frames-her-lover – and think of it in terms of sexuality. Bipasha Basu is unapologetic about her libido – and is rewarded for it by being painted as a sex-starved nymph. That she also plots to kill her husband and scoot off with the money only seals the nail in her proverbial moral coffin.
And what of poor Deepika Padukone in Cocktail? Here’s how the movie goes: Saif Ali Khan sleeps around with Deepika but falls for Diana Penty, because of her sanskaar. Deepika panics and tries to metamorphose into demure bahu prototype, convinced that’s the only way to have him. (Because, of course, who’d be interested in a woman who sleeps around or owns her body?) Diana, meanwhile, exhibits NO sexual agency at all – and hence is very coveted: Boy totally wants to ‘get with her’.
Meanwhile, Saif himself makes no attempts to be ‘less sexual’ of course – while poor Deepika goes about, trying her best to cover up (both wardrobe and sexual wantonness).
If that isn’t the death of female sexual agency, I don’t know what is.
Ultimately, the message most movies send out is simple – no one wants to see a woman deep in the throes of sexual passion, so keep it in your pants, will you? It’s alright, of course, if the male lead wants it, because he’s the source of sexual energy, and you are only the facilitator.
You are also expected to orgasm the same time as he does, whether in Hollywood or Bollywood, because ain’t nobody got time to watch a man work to get you off.
I don’t know about you, but the next time I see something like that, I’m getting out.