There's Something Sexy Missing From This Year's Oscar Movies
All the nominees for the best picture category for the 2015 Oscars share one thing in common: They contain zero sex scenes.
There's off-screen sex in American Sniper, implied oral sex in The Grand Budapest Hotel, an audio recording of sex in Selma and a lot of kissing going on in The Theory of Everything — but not one of the eight critically acclaimed, think piece-spawning films features a scene visually dedicated to the depiction of sexual intercourse.
It's more than a little weird — it's a massive missed opportunity. Movies remain a huge platform to reach a national audience of more than two-thirds of the U.S. population each year. And by overlooking sex, these movies missed the chance to bring much-needed accurate, nuanced representations to millions.
Missed opportunities: Sex, sexual development and alternative sexuality played significant roles in a number of best picture nominees. The Theory of Everything filmmakers, for example, had a chance to engage audiences by portraying the sex life of someone with ALS, something director James Marsh was actually interested in doing. In this case, he chose to honor the Hawking family's request not to explore sexuality in the film.
"When you make a film about living people, you do have to respect certain things they want you to respect, and that was one that we did," Marsh told the Huffington Post.
The Imitation Game had the chance to tackle gay sex. The movie is framed by the story of Alan Turing's hidden homosexuality, his struggle to suppress his desires in World War II-era Britain and subsequent suicide due to forced hormonal therapy. But, as director Morten Tyldum told the Wrap, not including a gay sex scene was a "very conscious choice." The Imitation Game star Matthew Goode told the Huffington Post: "In some ways, to do this man's story [and include his sex life], it would do him a slight disservice because he was so private."
Other movies had less concrete reasoning behind their omissions. Boyhood could have tackled first times in the context of growing up over the series of 12 years — like Mason's entrance into puberty, losing his virginity and his sex life with his high school girlfriend — and chose not to.
And in Birdman, a film that focuses on the struggles of masculine identity, a pregnancy scare and illicit affair between actors goes unconsummated onscreen. It's another time when suggested sex, rather than depicted sex, drives the plot.
No accident: This year's exclusion of sex scenes isn't just a fluke. As industry insider Vincent Bruzzese of the marketing firm Ipsos told Entertainment Weekly in 2013, "The number of sex scenes in the scripts we assess for our clients has absolutely declined in the last two years. ... And when they are in the script, our clients want to know, 'Is this absolutely necessary?'" Classic sexy films like Fatal Attraction or 9 Songs, they say, wouldn't be made if they were pitched today.
So why are films being so seemingly sanitized? According to insiders, films with sex are rarely the highest grossing. Moreover, recent nominations and snubs would suggest that it's hard for films containing graphic, closely examined sex — 2014's Inherent Vice, 2013's Nymphomaniac, 2013'sThe Spectacular Now come to mind — to win recognition. In fact, the most sexually graphic films are often cornered to comedic, young adult or gross-out film genres not often associated with Oscar buzz.
In recent years, it's been coming-of-age films like The Spectacular Now, Wetlands and The Squid and the Whale that have featured awkward, honest and conversation-starting depictions of adolescent sexuality that served to normalize formative sexual experiences for audiences. But these movies were scarcely nominated, nor were plenty of their predecessors.
As to why sex doesn't often earn statues, it could be traced it back to the nominators. Ultimately, the decision of which films get nominated is in the hands of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — a group notoriously older, male and white. As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2012, the academy consists of voters who are 94% white, 77% male and 86% over the age of 50. And historically, this homogenized group has voted that movies featuring honest sex scenes don't fit the mold of high Oscar appeal (though, it must be noted that this year's Oscar swag bags will include a laser vibrator).
Another factor at play is the rating systems (PG, PG-13, R, NC-17) movies must adhere to in order to attract certain key demographics, namely families and young audiences. For that reason, there are sex-filled movies that are shot down even before production or ones that undergo serious editing before they make it out of the gate. Most notable was Blue Valentine, which initially earned a damning NC-17 rating (for an intimate portrayal of cunnilingus) that threatened to severely limit its audience. It's no wonder Hollywood execs err on the side of caution when it comes to accurate portrayals of sex.
TV is leading the way: While sex scenes don't seem to be flying with the academy, the ratings system and moviegoers, television is proving that the inclusion of sex scenes can not only bring in a curious audience but heighten artistic value. In fact, as this Wired infographic illustrates, TV sex scenes aren't gratuitous for nudity's sake — they often drive plot.
Last year's TV lineup featured some of the most diverse and honest portrayals of sex we've seen on any screen. Shows like Orange Is the New Black, Transparent, Girls, Looking and The Mindy Project brought forth sexually charged plotlines that shaped the cultural conversation. The freedom had by cable and subscription TV, along with their mature audiences, allows for these types of authentic depictions to get aired and, yes, praised by awards shows.
Having such nuanced, accurate on-screen depictions is crucial. Not too long ago, the only screen where people got their sex fix was porn, a troubling fact, seeing as porn doesn't necessarily empower the viewer or depict realistic sex. TV, meanwhile, is offering the most positive, unique sex we've ever seen on the small screen.
Movies should be able to do the same, without fear of awards show snubs. There's no reason why sex scenes and acclaim have to be mutually exclusive. As TV gradually embraces more realism, it would do us all well if the academy got the memo.