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Desiree Akhavan: The sex scene in “Blue Is the Warmest Colour’’ felt insulting to me

The ‘Appropriate Behaviour’ and ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ director rips into bad movie sex and the patriarchy

Written by
Alice Saville

Desiree Akhavan’s breakout film ‘Appropriate Behaviour’ was a semi-autobiographical tale of a chaotic bisexual Brooklynite. Now, she’s back with an adaptation of 2012 young adult novel ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’, which is set in a gay conversion therapy facility for teenagers in rural Montana. In an industry where most narratives of female queerness are told by male directors, her raw, authentic perspective couldn’t be more timely.

This is the story of a girl who gets crushed by adults who are trying to change her sexuality, but they never feel like villains. Why’s that?

‘It was really important to me not to make these Christians with strong beliefs the butt of the joke. I wanted to make a film about abuse as I knew it, which was always done with a deep sense of love. The worst things in my life were done for, quote-unquote, “my own good”.’

You struggled to get a US distributor. Are backers scared off by female directors?

‘Yup. Most of the powers-that-be are male, and white, and older, and I don’t think there are a lot of shots for women. Also, teen films have been made in a paint-by-numbers way since John Hughes. No one is making anything that unusual.’

Connor Swindells as Adam Watson in ‘VS.’‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’

On Twitter, you described ‘Blue Is the Warmest Colour’ as a ‘bullshit piece of wank bank fodder’. Why?

‘It felt like it was using the sex scenes as the answer to the ultimate question that men have about lesbians: “How do they fuck without a penis?” You didn’t get intimacy, you were just observing that scene from a really cold, distant point of view, and that felt insulting to me.’

‘Why wouldn’t you use a sex scene as an opportunity to communicate something real? ’

What makes your approach different?

‘I want my sex scenes to be subjective, not objective: to be seen through the eyes of Cameron. Why wouldn’t you use a sex scene as an opportunity to communicate something real? That’s just good storytelling.’

Which movies by female directors inspired you to get into filmmaking?

‘I really loved “Fat Girl” by Catherine Breillat, a French filmmaker who talks a lot about sexuality in her work. Also Lynne Ramsay’s “Morvern Callar” and Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank”. Support the female directors that you care about. Box office receipts, social media posts… these things matter. If you love something, help it grow.’

‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ is out now.

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