SEXtember: Sex and sexuality according to films and TV in 2016
EACH year, film and television gets a little better at presenting fresh perspectives on sex. Natalie Ng compiles the very best films and shows in 2016 that continue to challenge how sex and sexuality should be perceived on screen.
Media has always been an important outlet to present diverse perspectives on sexuality. In the current ‘golden age of television’, this has been none more apparent, with television shows like Outlander and Masters of Sex breaking new ground in showing sex on screen from the perspective outside of the white, heterosexual male gaze.
Last year produced especially important and compelling films like Tangerine, which featured transgender actors in trans roles, after an entire history of film completely erasing their stories in the world.
While the stories of minority groups and their stories of sex and relationships are still few and far between, the fact that we are having this discussion and speaking out about the need to tell these stories is hopeful. Yes, we have since come a long way from when kissing scenes were restricted to only three seconds in Old Hollywood.
Keeping with this year’s theme, we’ve rounded up both television shows and films from 2016 that present sexuality and sex from the perspectives outside of the typical white heterosexual male gaze.
The Girlfriend Experience
The Girlfriend Experience comes from Starz, the American cable network that is also the home of Outlander. These two shows seem to be setting a new tone for the network to provide sex positive female stories.
Created by Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan and based upon by the Steven Soderbergh film of the same name, the show’s first season follows the day to day life of Christine Reade (Riley Keough), a law student intern who becomes a high-end escort.
The Girlfriend Experience is unique in the way it presents the modern young woman and her efficient attitude towards sex and life. From her work as a high end escort, she gets no-strings attached sex and an income. Christine is ambitious, manipulative, driven and confident. Her narcissism and love for her own image is shown in all aspects of her life, but none more so in her sex life, which also doubles as work, as the camera always chooses to focus on her and her pleasure during sex scenes.
And with a runtime of 30 minutes per episode, this is an easy choice to binge watch in a weekend!
London Spy, as its name indicates, is in part, a spy thriller. But the entire story takes place after its titular spy has died and focuses on the fallout of his death on his lover, Danny (Ben Whishaw).
Danny is an average party hard twenty-something. He meets Alex (Edward Holcroft), soft-spoken, enigmatic and brilliant. They fall in love. Danny is something of Alex’s sexual awakening and his first lover. After disappearing for a day then later found dead under mysterious circumstances, it is revealed to Danny that his partner had worked for M15. Danny is determined to uncover the conspiracy behind his death, and as the story unravels, it also frequently goes back to explore the deeply passionate relationship between Danny and Alex.
The show’s raw depiction of sex and the emotional connection that can be formed from it is something that has rarely been depicted in this type of narrative. Although it deals with some heavy subject matter, London Spy is a miniseries with only 5 episodes and is worth checking out for its complex depiction of same-sex relationships and gay men.
The Handmaiden premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival to much buzz, most of which surrounded its depiction of a sexually charged lesbian relationship.
From an adapted script by director Park Chan-wook and based on the Victorian lesbian novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, The Handmaiden moves its story to Korea under colonial Japan rule in the 1930s. Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), is a small time pickpocket. She is recruited by a man going by Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) to be employed as a handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee). Sook-hee must become Lady Hideko’s confidante and assist the ‘Count’ to swindle Hideko out of her massive inheritance. Things become complicated when Hideko and Sook-hee fall in love with each other.
The film depicts many different sexual fetishes in a humorous manner, but also provides Sook-hee and Hideko with a fulfilling sexual relationship with each other. The sex between the two women is fun and kinky, but never exploitative, but some people would disagree.
The film will be released in Australia nationwide in October in limited release so keep a look out for it!
How To Be Single
Many critics wrote off How To Be Single as being shallow and vapid, but that always comes with being a film marketed towards women.
A great girls’ night out film, the film actually delivers on the most part with championing singledom for its protagonist, Alice (Dakota Johnson). Alice, who is a ‘relationship’ person, feels as though she needs to take time for herself and explore her twenties as a single woman. She meets Robin (Rebel Wilson), who becomes her best friend and guide to embracing her sexuality with no strings attached hookups. The film also explores the relationships of Lucy (Alison Brie), a 30-something who wants to settle down with ‘The One’ and Alice’s sister Meg (Leslie Mann), a 40 something who enters a relationship with a man in his twenties.
How to Be Single on the whole is fluffy and fun but embraces female friendships and women owning their own sexuality and embracing the bachelorette lifestyle for the young women in their twenties, while also never dismissing their traditional ideas of love and relationship that Lucy and Meg have.
This year has been a particularly troubling year for minority groups, from the horrifying violence in Orlando as an attack on the LGBTQ community, to the ever present stories of police violence against black men.
Moonlight therefore seems like an urgent and important film as it paints a portrait of one man’s life and what it means to be gay and black in America. Told in three parts from child to adulthood, it follows the life of Chiron, who starts out as a nine year old kid in Miami, before transitioning into his teenage years as a young, bullied man learning to hide his sexuality to protect himself, and finally as a troubled adult.
The film has been picking up huge buzz at Telluride Film Festival, where it just screened. It’s been highlighted for its refusal to conform to stereotypes, being moving while avoiding being unrelentingly grim, and for its depiction of gay men and sexual relationships.