So a couple of weeks ago, a tweet by Evan Rachel Wood caused a bit of a stir. In the lead-up to the release of her upcoming film, Charlie Countryman, the original trailer was dropped after a scene in which she receives simulated oral sex from Shia LaBoeuf’s character was flagged by censors. Wood’s outburst accused the powers that be of rampant sexism, suggesting that, had the roles been reversed, no one would have had a problem. This raises two key issues in the current film climate: sexism itself and precedent setting.
Graeme Stirling and Cookie N Screen take a look into female pleasure in the cinema.
Let’s look at the precedent issue first. The recent trailers for Lars von Trier’s sexually charged Nymphomaniac have become infamous across the internet and successfully boosted publicity for the film. These previews, also featuring Shia LaBoeuf, involve multiple graphic sex scenes in which the actors’ parts and supporting roles from porn stars have allegedly been carefully spliced together to present what appears to be unsimulated sex. Not only that, but there is at least one full-frontal instance of a male character receiving oral sex from the female lead, followed by a shot of said lead looking rather proud of it. Certainly, it’s been labelled “NSFW” and has attracted a reasonable amount of controversy – which was the whole point, this being Lars von Trier – but no one’s trying to get this pulled.
Times have changed since the 40s and 50s, when words like toilet and pregnant could not be said on air for fear of causing offence and fainting, and it is a fact of life that the boat is pushed further and further out every year in the name of progress – look at the Saw franchise for a sign of just how far from the shore we’ve come in terms of graphic violence. So, is von Trier setting a precedent here, using mainstream and porn actors together to pack more nudity and more sex into a theatrical release than we’ve ever seen before? Pretty much. More importantly, is there a sexist angle to this? Wood’s main complaint was that her trailer was dropped for focusing on female – rather than mutual or even solo male, which appears to be acceptable – pleasure. This is open for debate, since Nymphomaniac appears to have plenty of female gratification. None of it, however, leaves the male unattended to, and the vision of the willing, indiscriminate, sex-crazed and nubile young female lead is, let’s face it, a very male one indeed.
It’s important not to stick to one film here, or even strictly to films as the centre of the debate. Brushing Nymphomaniac, Charlie Countryman and their respective trailers aside, let’s look at actors.
A few years back, relatively low-level young actress Kristen Stewart made her big-budget break in the Twilight film series, a massively successful young adult franchise known for its strange spin on vampire mythology and an interestingly tame, non-threatening approach to sex (although the so-called romance that fills the pages and scenes seems to border on the sociopathic). The only ones to complain were those who hated the whole premise or the sloppy execution, not the nature of the content.
Those who disagree with that include any critic or journalist who wrote a positive blurb for The Lucky One, released within a year of Stewart’s furore-stirring film and featuring none other than High School Musical star and Disney mainstay Zac Efron. The theatrical release poster, featuring Efron in a skin-tight t-shirt sharing a moment of intense, Nicholas Sparks face-grabbing eye contact with Taylor Schilling, was adorned with words like “Efron gets hot”, “the sexiest you’ve ever seen him” and/or words to that effect. Irrespective of how good or embarrassingly terrible the film was, his newfound, sexualised adult persona was widely praised.
That’s an interestingly different reaction. It’s also an interesting precedent to set. We all know that sex sells and that ladies are generally used to sell it. Are we now being told, however, that only men can be allowed to celebrate it and benefit from it on their own terms, whether on a basic physical level or on a marketing one?
Maybe we’re reading too much into this. Maybe what really caused the furore with On the Road was the overdone, Kerouac-bohemian tone of the scene, zipping around nude in a car and pairing up with two partners at once for no particular reason, something that would cause plenty of non-sexist parents a moral meltdown. But if that’s the case, what about Evan Rachel Wood and her Charlie Countryman trailer? It certainly wasn’t the full frontal nudity that caused its censorship (there’s a sentence we might never have expected to hear). Nymphomaniac has proved that. So, just maybe, this is exactly what they’re saying, and maybe their lead actress has a serious point.
It irks me. It gets under my skin and irks me. Mainly because women in the media are only allowed to be sexual if a man says so. So women stripping in music videos, car adverts and boyish comedy movies is the norm perpetuated throughout history. And it is so engrained in our psyche that even other women are involved, calling a girl who is in charge of her sexuality sluts and whores, victim blaming and more. A girl cannot take command of her own pleasure or her own attraction; instead we must simmer and wait for a man to throw us over his shoulders and have his way with us. And the reason, because the media with love is constantly telling us that a women has no right over her body, her sexuality and her life. Nay, we must give in to advertising and pop on our marigolds before we slide our hands down our pants.
Let’s not repeat in too much detail the facts; a scene involving cunnilingus was cut from Rachel Evan Wood’s most recent movie; Charlie Countryman. This is just the tip of a long standing war that media bosses seem to be having against women and their sexuality. If you look over the past year, you’ll see countless of women being torn apart for being themselves as well as laws and men attempting to control our body, only to trot us out when it’s pleasurable.
Which is odd, because I’ve always been brought up in believing that sex is between two people and therefore, a two way street. I am not wrong, am I? If I have intercourse than I expect the same amount of pleasure from my partner that I am giving. And I shouldn’t be scared to point out when I am not enjoying myself or what I like. I deserve to enjoy sex. And if I want someone to go down on me, I hope they will do so. And if I want to give it in kind, then I am allowed it. So it is strange to think that people think it is “revolting” or “disgusting” when a character gives oral pleasure to a women despite the levels of blowjobs that have been thrown in our faces over the past decades.
The most frustrating thing about it is that when it feels we are taking two steps forward, something else comes along to push it back. Sex In The City was a forerunner in showing that women do actually have sex for themselves. And this year television saw Orange Is The New Black impress with women who are multi-layered and strong. Movies such as Blue Is The Warmest Colour and Jeune & Jolie showed some pretty powerful sexual journey’s even if they are at both ends of the spectrum. Sweden is rating movies based on female character interaction and strong roles are becoming more of the norm in our blockbusters.
But in similar vein more sludge comes out that seems to counteract this. The Counsellor, bless it, tried to show oral pleasure in the first five minutes but took it away because it all revolved around men's reactions to it.
When researching this article, you have no idea the amount of bullshit I waded through. Trying to find movies that showed pleasure with females came up with little and when it did turn up, it boiled mostly to lesbianism. While that is brilliant, a rise of homosexuality coming away from porn and getting people to sit up and realize that everyone is bloody human and deserves that attention. Even movies such as Scary Movie happily lapped up in oral sex, but it is a penny in an ocean.
Basically, people are seeing us wrong. Women are currently in this state where we judge only on what we can give to men. Instead, we should be seen as what we are; humans. No matter what gender, race or sexual preference; we should be judge on our acts and who we are, rather than what.
And while that is slowly changing, it isn’t doing so fast enough. Rachel Evan Wood is right to be pissed off that her scene was cut. We all should be pissed off it was cut. It needs to be a tale of two halves; men and women of all creeds represented as people. Instead of subjecting the female species to wrath or putting them so high up on your pedestal, please realize that we are human. Homosapiens who fuck, shit and piss. We can wear what the hell we want, we can fuck who the hell we want and we can talk about sex just the way we want. We do it for us.
So catch up, Hollywood.