Mind Changes Writing Contest

Dark-haired woman in a denim shirt looking at camera
Sharon Beck-Doran
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Jan 5, 2024

Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Sharon Beck-Doran has won our writing contest on the theme Mind Changes with her piece "Lights, Camera, Consent: How Women in Film Are Changing Our Minds About Sex."

Sharon Beck-Doran writes about faith and sexuality for her blog and podcast titled Relevant Faith Journey. She enjoys exploring ideas from a different perspective and invites her readers to join her in thinking deeper so that we might become better humans.

Lights, Camera, Consent: How Women in Film Are Changing Our Minds About Sex

In August of 2023, a monumental thing happened: Barbie the movie broke $1B at the global box office. Only 53 films in history have been able to do that, and this was the first directed by a woman. If you’re like me, the importance of this didn’t sink in right away. What is the big deal? I wondered. 

What I didn’t know is that in the short history of film, the stories told have been almost exclusively from the male perspective. Of the 53 films to hit $1B, only 9 center around a female protagonist, assuming you count the fish Dory and three Disney Princesses. Since 1929 when the Oscars began, only 3 women have won best director and only 7 have been nominated.[1] Of the 581 movies nominated for best picture only 18 were directed by women. 

Why is this significant? Why is it important that our entertainment, our imaginary escape from the real world, tell women’s stories? 

Something clicked when I listened to actor-director Rachel Bloom talk about the recent push in Hollywood to include women as directors and in the writers room. Bloom is best known as the star, co-creator, writer and executive producer of the hit TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. 

Bloom explained that sex scenes are changing. That pattern where the guy grabs the girl, kisses her and they fall into bed together, no words needed—that’s actually very similar to porn, she said. Damn, I thought, mind blown. I had never made that connection.

As she talked, I remembered one of the few times I saw a love scene that depicted a man putting on a condom. By depicted, I mean you saw shadowy outlines and it took a minute to figure out what he was doing. The movie was Love & Basketball(2000) written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. The scene left me feeling vicariously loved and cared for. 

The storyline of Love & Basketball follows Quincy and Monica who have been playing basketball together since they were kids. They eventually fall in love. Both aspire to careers as pro basketball players, but Monica is the more talented of the two. Conflict arises over who’s success would come first and who would sacrifice for the other’s career. The closing scene shows Monica playing for the WNBA as Quincy holds their little girl, cheering her on from the sidelines. 

Seeing Quincy relinquish his dream to find a new identity as a father and husband is compelling. I expect I wasn’t the only woman who left the theatre thinking Damn! I want a man like that!—One that isn’t intimidated by my success. 

Could a man tell the same story? Of course, but would he? 

As a guest on Dax Shepherd’s podcast, Arm Chair Expert, Salma Hayek told the story of her first sex scene in the 1995 movie Desperado with Antonio Banderas. The scene was not in the original script, but studio executives demanded it after they saw the chemistry between Banderas and Hayek. 

Hayek knew the movie was a big break in her career so she couldn’t say, “No.” She recounted the experience saying she was terrified and cried the entire time. They cleared the room, attempting to make her feel more comfortable. The director pieced together clips between sobs to make it work. The question of her consent wasn’t even a question. 

In 2017 stories began to emerge of Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein manipulating young women into giving sexual favors for the promise of career opportunities. In response, women began to courageously share their stories of workplace abuse with the hashtag #metoo. It started a movement. 

Consent in the entertainment industry became a major topic of conversation. These women’s stories exposed an entertainment industry that had nurtured a culture of sexual abuse. 

Actors and production companies have started to require Intimacy Coordinators.[2] The purpose of this new role is to ensure that actors consent to everything that happens while filming sex scenes. 

It doesn’t exactly sound sexy to have carefully coordinated and mutually agreed upon rules established well before anyone takes off their clothes, but the planning is valuable. Sometimes people need a little time to consider what they are comfortable doing or showing. When a person is put on the spot they say “yes” to things they wouldn’t want to do if they had less pressure and a few minutes to think about it. Instead of a culture of abuse, the film industry is working to develop a culture of safety and consent. 

Most of us don’t go to the movie theater, read a novel or turn on the TV to engage in existential reflection. We want to be entertained. We look to escape the reality of our everyday lives and get caught up in stories that make us feel something—excited, in love, aroused, moved, or inspired.

Whether we like it, hate it, or even refuse to recognize it, movies and TV shape the way we see the world. That’s especially true for sex. In that very intimate place, books, movies TV and porn are often the only thing we know of sex outside our own experiences. 

Our lived experiences as men and women not only affect the stories we tell, but also the way that we tell them. Slowly, the influence of women in entertainment is changing the conversations we have about sex. Our view of what good looks like is starting to include phrases like, “Would you like me to stop?” We need more of this. Film and TV can help women understand their own stories and set new expectations for sexual consent. 

[1] Variety Magazine “#OscarsSoMale: Academy Awards Shut Out Women for Best Director” https://variety.com/2023/awards/awards/no-women-directors-nominated-oscars-1235496819/

[2] Jen Hatmaker “For the Love” Podcast episode with Intimacy Coordinator Jessica Steinrock https://jenhatmaker.com/podcasts/series-50/sex-and-consent-with-film-tv-intimacy-coordinator-jessica-steinrock/

Reviewed by Helen H.
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