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Here’s the problem with just closing your eyes during the sex scenes

Several years ago, Kate Beckinsale was conned into signing a movie contract that required nudity—something she didn’t want to do. With her acting career in jeopardy, she found herself browbeaten by the director. At long last, she gave in to intimidation and performed the nude scene, which made her feel, as she put it, “violated and horrible.” Afterwards, she secretly urinated in the director’s thermos in revenge.

In more recent history, Jennifer Lawrence wrestled with inner turmoil while filming her first sex scene (for the sci-fi movie Passengers). During an actress roundtable” for The Hollywood Reporter, Lawrence described the experience:

I got really, really drunk. But then that led to more anxiety when I got home because I was like, “What have I done? I don’t know.” And he was married. And it was going to be my first time kissing a married man, and guilt is the worst feeling in your stomach. And I knew it was my job, but I couldn’t tell my stomach that. So I called my mom, and I was like, “Will you just tell me it’s OK?”

Notice three sobering facts about Lawrence’s experience. First, she battled anxiety before and after filming the scene. Second, she felt intense guilt for sexually acting out with a married man. Third, she tried several coping mechanisms to eliminate her distress: alcohol (which only made things worse), telling herself everything was okay, and asking for consolation. 1

Would you believe me if I told you that stories like these are numerous? Sadly, it’s true. The amount of pressure and intimidation Hollywood places on actors – especially women – to undress and sexually act out for the camera is commonplace. When asked about sex scenes, celebrities often reply with something like, “We’re actors; it’s a part of the job.” Indeed, those who want to make it as an actor won’t be taken seriously if they have qualms about nudity and bed scenes.

The movers and shakers in Hollywood have acquired what seems to be an almost limitless amount of power to enforce the sexualization of actors. To cite one more example (this time from the world of television): director Neil Marshall once commented on how he was pressured by an HBO executive to put more sex and nudity in an episode of Game of Thrones:

…one of the exec producers…took me to one side and said, “Look, I represent the pervert side of the audience, okay? Everybody else is the serious drama side – I represent the perv side of the audience, and I’m saying I want full frontal nudity in this scene. So you go ahead and do it.”

Notice the implicit acknowledgement that the nudity had nothing to do with art – that it was designed solely for the satisfaction of a perverted audience base. The producer pushed his weight around, and the director (and everyone else) acquiesced. All of this to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Follow the money

What gives entertainment executives the authority to force others into such compromising situations? What gives a producer the power to manipulate a director into catering to perverse fantasies? What gives a director the right to coerce an actress into agreeing to do more than she meant to?

If this page was a mirror, you would be looking at the answer.

You see, when average folks like you and me support films and TV shows like these, we are perpetuating the sexualized culture we say we deplore. My guess is that, because it’s often hard to see how “A” eventually leads to “X,” we think little of doing “A,” even if we abhor “X.” We may complain about the objectification of women (and men) in our culture. We may complain about how movies are ruined by sex scenes and gratuitous nudity. But if we then turn around and financially support that culture, something is askew.

It doesn’t matter if you avert your eyes during sex scenes – at the end of the day, studios care about profit margins. That being the case, prudes and perverts give equal support for a film when they buy a movie ticket or purchase a DVD. The truth is, if people stopped financially supporting the abuse of actors, the industry would change. But producers follow the money, and there’s money to be made through the objectification of entertainers. As one acquaintance of mine with ties to Hollywood once put it in a Facebook discussion:

I know how many of the women in these scenes (and probably men too, you just don’t hear from them) have talked about throwing up in the bathroom between scenes, crying, stressing out constantly, etc. So basically, I’m paying for that person to do that for me? …. There are perhaps no handcuffs involved with these performers, but social constraints/expectations/demands/culture can be equally, if not more, powerful. And that’s the problem. I’ve lived in Hollywood. I’ve worked with prostitutes one on one. The line between the two worlds is thin. I know no other culture more willing to use people and throw them away.

Consider also that plenty of actors in the entertainment industry are not professing believers. They do not subscribe to a Christian sexual ethic. Still, their consciences bother them when it comes to nudity and sex scenes. Yet most moviegoers, including many professing believers, say their consciences are clear when they watch the consciences of others be violated – for entertainment, no less. They pay for actors to be abused or debased and experience no qualms about it.

In contrast, Paul calls Christians to give up their rights if it means hurting the conscience of others (see 1 Corinthians 9 and Romans 14). We have it backwards: we participate in the violation of others’ dignity so we can benefit from their moral and emotional compromises. Granted, the context of Paul’s teaching on this matter is the relationship between members of the church, but I don’t think that gives us an excuse to disregard the wellbeing of unbelievers.

As patrons of Hollywood, our pursuit of personal freedom has hijacked our ability to consider the needs of others. We have adopted a consumeristic mindset that disregards most every other factor in favor of us having a positive, cathartic experience. If the story is interesting enough, and if it “demands” the objectification and dehumanization of actors, then the needs of the story win out.

Brothers and sisters, this should not be!

What about actors who undress willingly?

Now, it is true that some actors do sex and/or nude scenes willingly, with little or no manipulation involved. Even so, that shouldn’t be of supreme importance to people of faith. Not if we take seriously God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

With this command in mind, whether or not actors agree with the nudity and sex acts required of them is actually beside the point. Why? Because it doesn’t negate the fact that they are being objectified and degraded as human beings in what is essentially a pornographic act.2 It is unloving of us as Christians to support such actions, even when they are free from coercion.

We see this principle at work in Romans 13, which says loving your neighbor includes avoiding adultery. The point is not that all adultery is rape. Some adultery – much of it, in fact– takes place by mutual consent. Does that suddenly make the adultery excusable? Not according to Scripture. By its nature, sexual perversion is sin, even if it takes place between consenting adults.

All forms of immorality are inherently unloving. That’s the Bible’s stance. That should be the Christian’s stance. In contrast to this, the film industry has created a socially acceptable ménage à trois: two actors commit sexually intimate acts, and audiences sit in on the proceedings with complete approval.

The law of love

What finally opened my eyes to this culture of sexual abuse was Wayne A. Wilson’s book Worldly Amusements. Wilson himself became aware of the issue after watching a movie in which the director had his own daughter perform sex acts on screen.

The fact that a director would sacrifice his child’s dignity for the sake of a movie changed Wilson’s perspective. He now implements what he calls the “law of love” in his movie watching habits: he refuses to support films that sexually objectify or degrade actors. He now asks himself, “Would I approve if my sister [or wife or daughter] were asked to behave or expose herself in any way that undermined her purity?”

It is a question we would do well to ask ourselves. This law of love exhorts us to consider the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of men and women in front of the camera. Is that restricting for a movie-going audience? I suppose so. It has definitely kept me from visiting the theater on several occasions where I otherwise would have willingly and excitedly done so.

Not a restriction

But this law of love is not “restricting” in a lastingly negative sense any more than monogamy is a negative restriction for married couples. It’s a law that protects, not harms. It’s a law that governs for good, not evil. It’s a law that helps one cultivate the greatest motive known to humankind. In the end, what is truly more freeing: living a self-centered or an others-centered life? The Bible’s answer is the latter.

Think about the implications here. How would it affect you if you put the law of love into practice? What if you refused to financially support movies that objectified actors because you wanted to treat them with the humanity they deserve? Would you not start viewing the actors you encounter in the movies as real people and not just potential sources of eye candy or gratification? Would the law of love not help you fight sexual lust even more effectively with gospel power? Would it not help you keep from focusing on yourself (which is what lust does) and instead focus on the needs of others (which is what a healthy, Biblically-informed sexuality is all about)? Would that not be a gloriously countercultural way to demonstrate God’s love to your fellow human beings?

I think it would. In fact, my personal experience has been that it does. I dare you (in the most positive sense possible) to prove me wrong.

Endnotes
1 For a more in-depth treatment, see “A Tale of Two Sexual Assaults on Jennifer Lawrence” at CapStewart.com
2 This argument is fleshed out in my article “Promoting Porn for the Glory of God?” at CovenantEyes.com, and in the “Sex Scenes = Porn blog series at CapStewart.com

Cap Stewart blogs about movies and the arts at CapStewart.com. This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2017 issue.


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Articles, Entertainment, Humor, Satire

The pitch meeting for "Redeeming Love"

PRODUCER: Do you have a new movie for me? SCREENWRITER: Yes, sir. This is gonna be gold, trust me. It’s an adaptation of a steamy romance novel set on the western frontier. PR: What? You do know our company is called Pure Flix, right? Not Impure Flix. SW: No, it’s a Christian novel. PR: A “steamy” Christian novel? SW: Yeah. PR: . . . SW: What is it? PR: I’m trying to find a multiverse where “steamy” and “Christian” belong together. Those terms aren’t exactly bedfellows. SW: But our main characters are, if you know what I mean. PR: What? SW: Well, the female protagonist is a prostitute. PR: Okay, this is not your best movie pitch, I gotta tell you. SW: It’s a redemptive story, though. PR: How so? SW: Well, it’s called Redeeming Love. So... PR: Oh, I see. It’s right there in the title: “Redeeming.” SW: Yeah, and it’s sold over three million copies since its publication in 1991. It’s really popular with the Christian ladies. It could make us a ton of money! PR: In that case, I guess I can take a look at the script. SW: Yeah, it’s a love story inspired by the book of Hosea. PR: You mean, from the Bible? About the prophet named Hosea who was commanded by God to marry a sexually promiscuous woman named Gomer? SW: That’s the one—only in the movie, her name is Angel, and she is forced into prostitution at a young age. PR: Oh no! SW: Yeah, life’s basically thrown everything but a feral prairie dog at her, so the audience will feel super empathetic—what with her poor, miserable, wretched life. PR: But that’s fairly incongruous with the story of Hosea, where Gomer is kinda playing the part of the antagonist. SW: Sure, but this isn’t the literal book of Hosea. I mean, it’s a fictional story. PR: I’m confused. SW: That’s because you haven’t heard the story yet. PR: Okay, fine. Tell me the story. SW: Like I said, Angel’s been mistreated her whole life, and she ends up as a prostitute. Then this man named Hosea— PR: Hey, that’s the name of the prophet! SW: Exactly, sir. Remember, this is an allegory. PR: But you just said… SW: Anyway, this guy named Hosea—he goes into town one day, sees Angel, and immediately wants to marry her. PR: Oh, love at first sight? SW: I mean, kinda. God basically tells him he’s gonna marry Angel. PR: Oh, really? SW: Yeah. So he pays double price to spend time with Angel. PR: Whoa, whoa, whoa. We can’t have that in a Christian movie. SW: No, he just wants to talk with Angel. To, you know, get to know her as a person. PR: Oh, okay. SW: So he goes to see Angel, and she’s just standing there fully naked— PR: Whoa, whoa, whoa! Why is she stark naked? We can’t have that in a Christian movie. SW: What can I say? I mean, it’s a brothel. It’s basically like a nudist colony, right? PR: I’m pretty sure prostitutes aren’t naked all the time. SW: Well, we’ll just…frame the shot so certain parts of her body are blocked from view. How’s that? PR: Fair enough. SW: So Hosea tells Angel she’s going to be his wife because God says so. PR: Really? He just out and says it? SW: Sure. I mean, haven’t high school kids been doing that to their crushes for, like, forever? PR: Oh, good point. SW: Exactly. So Hosea spends a ton of money to spend time talking with Angel. He woos her with his prophecies about their upcoming marriage, and after he badgers her for a long time— PR: He badgers her? So she’s not interested at all? SW: Not a lick. PR: I’m sorry, this doesn’t really sound like the book of Hosea. SW: No, this is a work of fiction. PR: But you said— SW: Anyway, after a lot of convincing, Angel finally agrees to be his wife and he takes her to his farm. PR: Well, shucks. That sounds like a fairly short movie to me. SW: No, it’s not over yet. The best part’s coming. PR: Oh, really? SW: Yeah, yeah, yeah. After Hosea finally gains Angel’s confidence, the two start getting…intimate. PR: Intimate? How so? SW: PR: You mean…like they finally have an open and honest discussion by a warm fire or something? SW: No, I mean…intimate. PR: You mean…like snuggling next to a warm fire? SW: No. PR: Oh, you mean like a romantic… SW: Yes! PR: …candle-lit dinner? SW: No! There is no fire and no candle! PR: So, they…eat a romantic dinner in the dark? SW: No, I’m not talking about “dinner table” intimacy, I’m talking about “bedroom” intimacy. PR: But why would they take their dinner to bed? SW: There’s no dinner! Forget dinner. There’s no food whatsoever! PR: You’re going to have them go to bed without any dinner? How is that intimate? SW: As a husband and wife, they enjoy what husbands and wives enjoy…you know, when they’re…husband and wife. Alone. With no one else around to watch (except for the audience, in this case). PR:  . . . SW:  . . . PR: Oh! Now I understand. SW: Yes… PR: They start kissing, and then we cut to them covered and snuggling afterward. That’s sweet. And props to you for giving a positive portrayal of marriage and all. SW: No, they start kissing, but that’s only the beginning. PR: The beginning of what? SW: We’ll spend, like, a couple whole minutes watching them kiss and take each other’s clothes off and fondle and copulate and— PR: What the cuss?! SW: Uh, did you just say “what the cuss”? PR: This is poo on a stick! SW: What is? PR: This whole load of hooey you’re trying to sell me! There’s no way in Sheol we’re going to actually show two characters getting intimate onscreen. SW: But they’re married. It’s totally legit. PR: Who would even agree to do that?! It’s not like Christian actors are standing in line waiting to shoot nude or sex scenes. You won’t get Kirk Cameron or Neil McDonough— SW: Okay, so we’ll…get an intimacy coordinator. That’s all the rage these days, right? PR: That doesn’t change the fact that you’re pitching a Christian film with onscreen sex. What’s gotten into that hip, edgy brain of yours? SW: Look, consider this: all the film’s sex scenes— PR: All of them? You’re planning on multiple sex scenes?! SW: No, no, no. Only, like, two. And they’ll both involve just the main characters—who, I might point out, are married. And unless someone edited the Bible lately… PR: Sorry, I’ve not read that copy lately. SW: . . . Where is Proverbs? Aren’t the books in alphabetical order? PR: No, Proverbs is in the Wisdom Literature section. SW: Where is that? Is it reverse alphabetical order? A few minutes later...  SW: Here it is! Hiding right there in the middle. Strange. Okay, Proverbs 5:19. “As a loving hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love.” I’m basically using that as a script for one of the scenes. This movie is, after all, based on the Bible. PR: Wait, you just said— SW: This isn’t illicit sex we’re talking about. It’s married sex. The best kind. The kind that any woman would want to drag her husband and children to the theater to watch together. PR: Married sex isn’t supposed to be a spectator sport! SW: Look, we’re not gonna be filming real sex. It’s just simulated. Nothing really happens. PR: Oh. So, even the kissing will be a special effect? SW: No, they’ll be kissing for real. PR: So them taking off their clothes will be a special effect? SW: No. They’ll take their clothes off. PR: So the fondling will be a special effect? SW: No, he’ll really be touching her. PR: So the thrusting will be fake? SW: Why would that need to be fake? It’ll be real thrusting. PR: So when you say, “Nothing happens,” you really mean…everything happens. SW: No, nothing does happen. I mean, they don’t actually…“do the do.” PR: But they do do everything else leading up to “the do,” which they simulate with thrusting? SW: Right. Non-sexual thrusting. PR: When is thrusting not sexual? When are fondling and thrusting not sexual? SW: When it’s acting? I mean, the actors we’ll hire probably won’t be in an actual relationship. PR: So, if two people aren’t in an actual relationship, any intimate activities they engage in are magically unsexual? SW: Not when you put it like that. But in this case, yes. None of the sex will be actually real. It’s simply actors doing everything married couples do (except the “final act,” of course) in front of a camera, with footage that will be considered by audiences to be hot and steamy. Only a prude would consider that sexual. It’s not real. PR: Is your brain even real? SW: Okay, let’s take a step back. I think we’re losing perspective. The whole point of this movie—the whole point—is to be redemptive, right? PR: I suppose. I mean, it’s in the title. SW: Right. Exactly. So, in order to redeem this movie, we need to show audiences just how hot and steamy married sex can be. PR: We need to do that? SW: Yes! If Hollywood wants to take us down the road of porn-inspired content, we’ll turn the tables with our Christian sex scenes—but with the actors’ critical body parts strategically blocked. PR: Wait. So the actors won’t be naked? SW: That’s not what I mean. The actors will be in various stages of undress, but we won’t see it. That’s all that matters, right? Who cares if the actors have to actually get naked on set and touch each other in…“Proverbs 5:19” places? We won’t see any full nudity ourselves. By placing his hands on her, the actor will be protecting the sexual well-being of the audience. PR: But not his sexual wellbeing—or hers, for that matter. SW: That’s just the thing. Instead of getting professing Christians to play the roles of Angel and Hosea, we’ll get people who won’t put up a fuss. It’ll be perfect. I’m sure we can find actors who lack a scriptural sexual ethic. That’s the ideal recipe for shooting godly sex scenes that will whack people over the head with the good news of steamy love. PR: You mean “redeeming” love? SW: Right. What did I say? PR: What about the other sex scene? SW: What about it? PR: Can they keep their clothes on for that one? SW: Ah, a compromise. I can dig it. Sure, we’ll choreograph it so the actors can remain basically fully clothed. It’ll be so pure, it’ll rock the audience’s socks off! PR: Keep those socks on – we have enough clothes coming off in this project already. SW: Will do, sir. You’re the boss. PR: And I don’t want the male protagonist’s first name to be Hosea. This story just isn’t a very accurate allegory. SW: Okay, we can call him…Mike. Or Michael. PR: Fine. SW: Yeah, Michael Hosea. PR: I guess that will work. SW: Good! Oh, and I just had another great thought. PR: What? SW: You know that fully clothed sex scene? PR: . . .Yeah? SW: We can use a screenshot of that scene for the official movie poster. PR: What?! This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared at Cap Stewart's blog Unpop Culture, and is reprinted here with permission. Cap is also the author of the online curriculum Personal Purity Isn’t Enough: The Long-Forgotten Secret to Making Scriptural Entertainment Choices, and has contributed to numerous print and online publications, including Zondervan Academic, The Christian Post, and The Gospel Coalition....


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