'Kids Are All Right': Male Porn's Female Appeal
When The Kids Are All Right co-writer Stuart Blumberg talked about having Annette Bening and Julianne Moore's gay-mom characters watch gay man-on-man porn, writer-director Lisa Cholodenko says her first reaction was: Forget it. "I said, 'That's really too risque! We really want this for a mainstream audience.' He said, 'No, it's funny.'" Comic awkwardness defanged the shock; the shock gave a crude little Judd Apatow-ish comic kapow to a movie that needed to avoid the least hint of the virtuous domestic lassitude that sex researcher Pepper Schwartz has termed "lesbian bed death." The scene helped give the director's career new life, and an Oscar shot.
Real lesbians complained about Cholodenko's film. "Hollywood may buy male-fantasy pornographic film, but we don't," fumed a member of a group called the Lesbian Mafia online. In a GLAAD poll of those who'd seen the film, 42% thought it a "poor representation" of gays. But writer Ariel Levy told The Daily Beast, "I don't understand it, but I know so many dykes that watch porn." A lesbian friend of Levy's told the Beast that female porn stars turn her off: "It never seemed like they were having any fun."
One successful gay mom in the movie biz, who's like a nicer version of Bening's character, working hard to raise adorable kids with a stay-at-home mom, has a theory as to why male erotica has female appeal. "Regarding the gay sex thing, I can tell you it has surprised me how many women I know, gay and straight, who are turned on by Queer as Folk," she e-mails. "That is not gay porn per se, but it's boys getting it on with vigor, and explicitly. There's something about the way they ... don't talk. :)"
And talkiness may be the key to reaching the female moviegoing demo. Maybe some women want a strong, silent male-porn break in bed sometimes, but in choosing movies, they do like to talk, says Women & Hollywood blogger Melissa Silverstein. "Our brains are different. Women talk, they want the opinions of their friends, they go online a lot more than men for information about decisions. They just process information differently." One reason Hollywood doesn't make enough movies for women, Silverstein thinks, is that everything is based on the first weekend's grosses. "Women don't rush out to the movies the first weekend the same way kids and men do. They do not have time and do not want to waste money."
"Men pick movies not based on other people's opinions. It goes back to asking directions -- they won't. It's not as thought-through. When women do it, it's more considered. Sex and the City 2 -- women didn't want to go see it, so they didn't."
"Women buy 55% of all tickets," says Silverstein. "Granted, probably a lot of them for family films, but still." Silverstein notes how much less this year's avalanche of women-intensive movies cost than blockbusters for the boys. Maybe executives should stop behaving like short-term-goal-oriented male porn stars and talk about more imaginative marketing to women, and more movies for moms (with or without porn scenes). "That's how to make the money," says Silverstein.
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Scott Feinberg, the lead awards analyst for The Hollywood Reporter, is one of the entertainment industry's most experienced and trusted experts about the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys. He started on the awards beat in 2001, writing for independent websites including his own ScottFeinberg.com before joining the Los Angeles Times and then THR, for which he writes “The Race” blog, which won the LA Press Club’s National Entertainment Journalism Award for best entertainment blog of 2012-2013. A voting member of both the Broadcast Film Critics' Association and Broadcast Television Journalists Association, he is also writing a book about film history for young people for which he has interviewed more than 500 high-profile Hollywood figures whose careers span the silent era through the present.
Follow Scott on Twitter at twitter.com/scottfeinberg.