Whether you're a queer person aching for representation or a straight human looking for a good time, we are all searching for the same thing in life: quality lesbian sex scenes.
Historically, they've been excruciatingly hard to find. That's why it's delightful to see newly-released indie drama Disobedience get it mostly right. Neither a heteronormative pornographic fantasy nor a dry, anthropological account, Disobedience manages to depict queer sex without exploiting the actors performing it.
Bonus: It's super hot.
Ever since Director Sebastián Lelio's Disobedience premiered at TIFF in 2017, it's been the talk of the town among the five queer women who care about this kind of stuff. The film tells story of Orthodox Jewish lesbians in London: Esti (Rachel McAdams) caught in a loveless relationship with a Rabbi, and Ronit (Rachel Weisz) trapped in a series of meaningless heterosexual hookups.
Besides being a genuinely considerate movie with some thoughtful meditations on religion and culture, it has the added thrill of having super erotic sex scenes, made possible because:
1. The director didn't exploit his actresses (see Autostraddle's interview with Rachel Weisz).
2. It's a forbidden love that takes place in a confined setting where people wear lots of uniforms.
3. There's actual build-up, it's not just straight porn.
4. The two characters actually seem like each other (gulp!).
5. They execute realistic sex positions that normal, sexual non-Olympians are capable of performing.
This seems like it shouldn't be a victory. And yet, the list of movies who've accomplished the same feat is painfully abbreviated. Don't talk to me about Blue is the Warmest Color, a movie made famous for its extended, impractical sex scenes and allegations of harassment by its director, Abdellatif Kechiche. Kechiche reportedly bullied the two female protagonists as well as his staff, forcing them to work 16-hour workdays under extreme pressure. Critics further accused the director of creating "voyeuristic" sex scenes intended to solicit the male gaze.
As a queer woman myself, I was mostly concerned that the two female characters ate a whole plate of spaghetti without brushing their teeth before commencing intercourse.
There are a few others that make the cut. Todd Haynes' Carol featured delightfully melodramatic and nostalgic rich lesbian sex scenes, but the scenes were brief in duration, and what they had in quality they lost in quantity. Repression-era sex scenes are the best kind of sex scenes. We demand more.
1985's Desert Hearts was one of the first majorish films to feature lesbian sex, uh, ever. Bound (1996), the story of a hot ex con , had some of the hottest lesbian sex scenes in lesbian sex scene history. Still, the chances of people watching this movie who aren't Xennial queers, Gen-X lesbians, or currently taking a feminist film theory class are, approximately, zero.
I'm not about to put Kissing Jessica Stein in this category, because it's too weak of a queer film to be even considered. There's also Mulholland Drive, which had some very brief hot queer moments relative to its era (2001). Heavenly Creatures (1994) served the queer goth community particularly well. Sadly, that community is relatively small.
So kudos to Disobedience for really taking the time to mediate on how queer women have sex. The scene clocks in at about eight minutes and never once gets banal — it even throws in a complimentary spit swap.
Here's what Weisz told queer women's media publication Autostraddle about the film:
As am I. Representation always matters, whether it's in the Halls of Congress or at your local independent theater. Queer women deserve to have their queer female sex represented on screen, without it devolving into typical pornographic tropes: shaved vaginas, sorority sisters, giant jiggly boobs, foot-long dildos, scissoring, a well-hung neighbor guy who just "pops in" for a threesome, etc. There's absolutely nothing wrong with any of these erotic ingredients, per se, but it's formulaic and not particularly representational of most queer sex.
If America truly cares about lesbian sex (which it definitely does, as most porn sites, queer women, and even straight women will tell you) it should do a better job of representing it on screen.
Disobedience has come a long way from its queer cinematic origins, and we still have so far to go.
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