Thursday Trends: Female Directors and Erotic Mainstream Films

'Sleeping Beauty' film still (Australian Broadcasting Media)

‘Sleeping Beauty’ film still (Australian Broadcasting Media)

This week, we’re examining different aspects of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” in preparation for the upcoming movie. 

As we mentioned earlier this week, the upcoming “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie bears an interesting distinction: Women are in prominent positions behind the camera. Aside from author E.L. James, Sam Taylor-Johnson is directing off a script written by Kelly Marcel. In an industry where female directors comprise only 29%+ of total directors, this trifecta will no doubt prove a competitive advantage in adapting a property beloved by so many women worldwide.

It might usher in a new film concept as well: the mainstream erotic, yet female-friendly, film. So far, the closest we’ve come has been with “Sleeping Beauty,” released in 2011. Debuting during the Cannes Film Festival, Australian director/screenwriter Julia Leigh’s film focuses on university student Lucy (Emily Browning) who moonlights as an erotic freelancer. Lucy’s job is to sleep peacefully in a large bed, while paying male customers sleep next to her, following the establishment’s “no penetration” rule. The film was Leigh’s directorial debut.

In France, director Catherine Breillat is known for depicting realistic sexuality and intimacy onscreen, even casting Italian porn star Rocco Siffredi in two films. Her work tends to examine facets of female sexuality. Breillat’s films “Virgin” and “Fat Girl” specifically focus on budding female teenage sexuality. Incidentally, she also has a film titled “The Sleeping Beauty.”

It’s interesting to note that most of the erotic films that are (relatively) mainstream come from overseas, where sexual mores are a bit looser. And this holds true for the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie: Though produced by three American production companies and distributed by Universal (all American companies), James, Taylor-Johnson, and Marcel are all British.

The closest mainstream American BDSM film we’ve had with a female presence has been “Secretary,” released in 2002. Written by Erin Cressida Wilson from a short story by Mary Gaitskill, the script won Wilson a Best First Screenplay award at the 2003 Independent Spirit Awards. But the prominent women in behind-the-camera positions stop there.

Hopefully, “Fifty Shades of Grey” will open more doors for female directors and screenwriters, particularly for films of an erotic nature. But with American’s puritanical take on sex, progress might happen at a snail’s pace.

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