Rome: Desiree Akhavan on 'The Bisexual' and Why Her Stories Are Still Taboo

Desiree Akhavan - 13th Rome Film Fest at Auditorium Parco Della Musica - Getty-H 2018
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

The director of 'The Miseducation of Cameron Post' created and stars in the new Hulu comedy as a gay woman who also starts dating men.

It's been a busy year for director Desiree Akhavan. 

In January, her sophomore feature, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, about a teenager (played by Chloe Grace Moretz) forced into gay conversion therapy, won the Grand Jury Prize in Sundance. It was snatched up by festivals and distributors around the world, most recently playing the Rome Film Fest this week. 

Earlier this month saw the debut, on Britain's Channel 4, of The Bisexual, a six-part comedy series Akhavan wrote, directed and stars in. She plays Leila, a woman in her 30s who, after leaving her female partner (Maxine Peake), begins dating men. Hulu will premiere The Bisexual in the U.S. Nov. 16.

The Bisexual is tricky because I’ve just never seen any representation, outside of Tila Tequila, who had a reality show called A Shot at Love,” Akhavan told The Hollywood Reporter in Rome. “That’s all I’ve seen. I’m excited to have representation for bisexuality and just tell this one story. But with everything I make, I want people to feel less alone. I make it for the people who know those stories. And if someone meets their first bisexual friend through that story, in terms of loving the characters, that would be incredible.”

The concept of identity is one Akhavan has tackled throughout her career, starting with her 2014 debut feature Appropriate Behaviour, the story of a hip, politically correct bisexual Brooklynite (played by Akhavan) who also struggles to be the ideal Persian daughter. Unsurprisingly, the story was inspired by her own life and struggle with multiple identities.

“I happen to belong to several cultures that are at odds with each other," she said. “I grew up in America. My whole family is from Iran. I am bisexual, which is sort of persona non grata in the homosexual community, so you’re both gay and straight. Whatever community you’re in, you’re an outsider. These are themes that always pop out in my life."

While films featuring homosexual characters or themes have become more common, Akhavan notes that, in Hollywood, lesbian and bisexual stories are still seen as taboo.

“Looking at gay narratives, last year the biggest successes were Call Me By Your Name and Love, Simon, and it’s okay to be gay if you’re a guy,” she said. “If you’re a woman, the stories are few and far between, and they’re all directed by men: Blue Is the Warmest Color, My Summer of Love, Carol. There are very few women who are allowed to tell the stories of their own bodies and the way they like to have sex. The way that they communicate is taboo. To me there’s something very political about women’s bodies and women’s desires.”

While she considers herself a feminist, Akhavan said she grew up in an "incredibly superficial culture" that also informs her work.

“My family forced me into plastic surgery as a teenage girl. I had a nose job," she said. "These are always things that are compelling to us and drive us to want to tell stories, to laugh at it and poke fun.”