During her talk at this year’s Woman With a Movie Camera summit, Christine Newland argued that cinema, desire, and sex are deeply interlinked. For instance, while male critics are able to talk openly about desire with regards to female characters and stars, the more “recent” phenomenon of female critics openly expressing desire for their favourite celebrities’ acting abilities has drawn criticism from certain groups in the film industry.
Cast your mind back two years to the incredibly creepy Margot Robbie profile in Vanity Fair. Written by Rich Cohen, who also interviewed Robbie, the profile contained lewd descriptions like “sexy and composed even while naked but only in character” and “lost purity.” It makes for a deeply uncomfortable read, let alone for Robbie to experience – she felt that it was a “really odd interview”, and it left her feeling uneasy about the overall tone of the article.
However, in contrast to Cohen’s crude profile on Robbie, we have Chris Evans’ interview on the recently concluded Buzzfeed podcast Thirst Aid Kit. Hosted by Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins, both journalists and writers, the interview was an examination of celebrity thirst and sexual desire from the perspective of two black women. Not only do Adewunmi and Perkins dissect their own sexual attraction to various male celebrities, they also engage in a larger criticism on how this attraction is related to society, culture, and politics. This podcast, along with the writings of Hunter Harris of ‘Vulture’ and others, has provided women a space and a language to talk about desire and its relevant cultural impact. Unlike Cohen’s article, or Rob Hatton’s profile of Selena Gomez, or even Anthony Lane’s super-horny review of Incredibles 2, the interview with Chris Evans was not only direct about his attractiveness, it also showed that an analysis of desire can provide an interesting insight into Evans’ perception of his own career and the types of roles he was initially being offered. Desire, in this case, goes hand in hand with a critical examination of celebrity culture.
It is these relatively recent iterations in the expression of desire which contextualises Newland’s talk, which was also in part about her upcoming book ‘SHE FOUND IT AT THE MOVIES: Women Writers on Sex Desire and Cinema’ – due early next year. The book will feature twenty-one women writers, and is also inclusive of non-binary and LGBTQ individuals.
While the expression of sexual desire by female film critics is certainly nothing new, it has been unfairly branded by some film critics as unprofessional, or as “unrestrained idolatry hunt[ing].” To this, Newland argues that the expression of desire by women is not simply tit for tat, nor a directly opposing response to male expression of desire, but something interesting and subversive altogether. She points to Stephanie Zacharek’s review of the 2017 film Gifted, starring Chris Evans, Jenny Slate and McKenna Grace, which finds a balance between pleasure and insight. For example, Zacharek describes Evans as “a caricature of a 1940s football hero… [who] carries it all with a shrug.” To write about the physical appearances, charms, and sensuality of actors is not only old hat in the film industry, it is also a key component of star studies.
Love objects on screen act as cultural bellwethers through depicting the “ideal” which appeals to the widest possible audience and in doing so, become enduring cultural icons. From Rudolph Valentino to Marlon Brando to Idris Elba, there will always be stars who are cast-typed as your typical heartthrobs. Academics and critics have built careers around a knowledge and expertise of certain stars, so female critics talking about actors online and in their own examinations of culture definitely has a long and valued history.
Women discussing celebrity thirst online is not merely “tit for tat.” In fact, our open expression of sexual desire may just be a long awaited response to the “male gaze” as defined by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey forty-years years ago. And for as long as there are stars, there will be people talking about them, writing about them and yes, thirsting after them.
You can find Christina Newland on twitter @christinalefou.
‘SHE FOUND IT AT THE MOVIES: Women Writers on Sex Desire and Cinema’ will be released by Red Press in Spring 2020. Sign up below for updates on the book and advance extracts from contributors: https://redpress.us14.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=29efa69ed687cda1790d5bc5e&id=0f0dcaa88b‘
You may also pre-order Newland’s book here.