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NOV
23
4 YEARS

'Kids Are All Right': Male Porn's Female Appeal

The Kids Are All Right
Suzanne Tenner – © 2009 Overture Films

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.

(Follow my Race Tweets @timappelo)