The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, December 29, 2008

More on Media Sex

Under the "Asians in the Media" entry, a bunch of things got asked, so I'll answer 'em:

1) It's odd that someone thinks there was no sex in "Miami Vice": did you actually see the movie?

2) I want to see the SAME amount of sex for black men as white men. Otherwise, it's reasonable for me to assume that there is some kind of outside force at work.

3) Why would I complain that Blair has interracial sex? I have no objections to that. And black women who complain about it rarely seem to complain when Halle Berry, Thandie Newton, or whoever have sex with white men, and that kind of hypocracy pisses me off. Sauce for the goose.

4) Black men being "exploited" in love scenes? Excuse me? Are white men "exploited"? Jeeze. I find that absurd. I can hardly even understand this, unless I take the position that sex itself is "dirty", which I don't . I find a good love scene to be absolutely delicious, and considering the popularity of films that contain them (longest running film series in history? James Bond. Average number of love scenes per movie? Two.) I'd say the majority of people agree with me, even if they won't admit it publicly.

5) It is quite reasonable to analyze movies that fail, and say it can be attributed to X or Y. Fine. But the truth is that such analysis can be applied to any film. There is no such thing as a movie where you can't look and say: "oh! The problem wasn't the sex. The problem was Z." Fine. That's why I don't insist that some particular film "should" have crossed the line. It is in looking at the sweep of films, the dozens that did cross the 100-million mark, and noticing that, for some odd reason, if the male stars aren't white, they CANNOT get across that line if there is sex. Notice that black or Asian WOMEN can get across that line, so you're still left with the question of "why?" about black or Asian men.

4) How many 100-million plus movies have love scenes? (some of these are "PG-13" scenes, that go from a kiss to a fade, etc.) We have to go by my memory, so I apologize in advance. But looking at the list of 100 million plus films at, the following movies contain the cinematic conventions of sexuality--in other words, reproductive behavior. Two adults are in a private room or situation, they kiss and/or embrace to a fade-out, or actually engage in varying levels of explicit behavior. "Gone With the Wind" for instance, is a perfect example: for the time, the scene of Rhett Butler carrying Scarlet up to their bedroom was ravishingly, devastatingly sensual. Now, of course, it would be G-rated.

Love scenes: actual intercourse or kissing and passionate embracing to a fade-out in a protected, private context:

Titanic, Iron Man, Matrix Reloaded, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Ghost, Mission Impossible II, 300, Gone With The Wind, Pearl Harbor, Mr and Mrs. Smith, What Women Want, Grease, Pretty Woman, Top Gun, Chicago, Casino Royale, Catch Me If You Can, Quantum of Solace, Die Another Day, The Firm, Fatal Attraction, Jerry McGuire, What Lies Beneath, Sex and the City, Knocked Up, Lethal Weapon 2, American Pie 2, The Fast and the Furious, Animal House, XXX, Look Who's Talking, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Good Will Hunting, The Green Mile, The Godfather, American Gangster, Officer and a Gentleman, The World Is Not Enough, Tomorrow Never Dies, Something's Gotta Give, The Bodyguard, Fifty First Dates, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Rocky, Double Jeopardy, 8 Mile, Notting Hill, Face/Off, Twins, Doctor, Zhivago, 40 Year Old Virgin, GoldenEye, Indecent Proposal, Love Story, Every Which Way But Loose, Porky's, American Wedding, Scream, The Aviator, American Pie, Maverick, Contact, Vanilla Sky, Shakespeare in Love,


My memory MIGHT be mistaken in a couple of cases:

Dances with Wolves, Rain Man, A Beautiful Mind, The Rock, Superman II,


Curiously, I noticed "Hairspray" this time, which has a scene where a black guy climbs in a white girl's window, they kiss and sink out of frame. Technically, that qualifies...but we still don't have the STAR getting any. Interesting that it' s another case of a secondary character. And , "Blazing Saddles" we TECHNICALLY have a scene in which, during the black-out, the Sheriff and the singer get it on. But we see absolutely nothing. There is no kiss, barely any touching at all. Mel Brooks isn't shy about showing people kissing. Hmmm. Why do YOU think we saw absolutely nothing?

But in fair play, I have to say that these two movies kinda, sorta, tip-toe across that line from oblique and incredibly cautious angles. So while no stars have ever had on-screen nookie, it's clear that the line is getting a little fuzzier.


And to answer the question I've answered a dozen times before: why do I care so much? Because I consider this issue to be a measurable marker of an unconscious aversion, the same thing that leads to bigotry, cops shooting unarmed black men, preferences in loans and jobs and legal acquittals. Whether you like and accept someone and consider them a member of your tribe, on a deep unconscious level. When I see black actors being accepted as being just as human as white actors, I will believe that the playing field has finally gotten sufficiently level.


Josh Jasper said...

Mel Brooks pushed a lot of lines in his career. He's pretty good at using humor about race and racism, while not being racist.

Unknown said...

Interesting. That's more $100 million+ movies with sex in them than I'd expected; I was thinking that a lot of them might be "family movies" and therefore obliged to ditch the sex scenes. (It also looks, from comparing lists at that site, as if trend in profitability of ratings is PG-13, then PG, then G, then R, with NC-17 trailing way behind, but R not significantly behind G.)

Since Blazing Saddles was fairly pointedly tweaking white people about their discomfort about black men having sex with white women (both in that scene and the scene where the Klan chases the sheriff), I'm sure the black-out was calculated.

Master Plan said...

Hmm, I think at least 1) and 4) are me.

So, for 1), no I did not see it, and, what I was saying was, of movies, which meet the selected criteria (black male lead, 100M+, sex scene), which of them, assuming some standard level of content based on movie type and rating (that is, we expect sex scenes in Bond movies, animated kids movies, not so much)by rights *should* have had sex, but, for whatever reason, did not. I was speculating that Miami Vice might have been such a film wherein a black male lead does not have sex with a white (or non-black) woman despite that being something I'd expect to see in that movie. However it did not gross 100 million domestically (which I figure is worth considering since it's an American issue of unconscious bias which I believe we are looking for) and so doesn't count in any case. I did expect that there would be sex in it, but was not sure if it had Foxx sexing up some Cuban cuties or if it was the white women, or indeed even if there is a sex scene or just some close dancing, as mentioned, no, did not see that one.

Similarly for 4), I was not saying that black men ARE exploited, I was making a joke, about the idea that a big name black male lead had been offered a movie featuring center stage black man\white woman sex (like..I don't know Jungle Fever 2: Hot Night in the Big City) and had turned it down, again, as a joke, not as something I suspect has in fact happened, turned it down because theoretical actor in this theoretical joke felt that it would be exploitative of him and his race to participate in a film which would prominently feature black\white sex as a kind of gimmick. Again, not actually exploitative, not actually anything, merely an attempt at humor related to the subject at hand, being that this movie we're searching for could have been made, but was not, for reasons having to do with the black male lead and not subconscious bias on the part of the studios or audiences.

Hope that clears those two up. Sorry I was not more explicit initially.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

You could write a dissertation about race, status, and sex in Hairspray, but here's a first crack at the subject.

The movie's highest values are dancing, courage, joie de vivre, and lack of prejudice. In a conventionally structured movie, Tracy would end up with the best black male dancer. On the other hand, if it were conventionally structured, it wouldn't be Hairspray.

Instead, Tracy is fixated on (iirc) the most popular boy in her class. He's a good but not great dancer, and not especially courageous. And she gets him. Her best friend ends up with the (imho) otherwise uncharacterized best black male dancer because they've fallen in love and lust with each other.

Tracy's parents aren't going to win the prize for pretty people who deserve sex in movies, but they're obviously nuts about each other. And it's at least unusual for the slender blond to be so clearly not what a heterosexual (in the universe of the movie) man wants. And the end of the movie undercuts the idea that winning is the most important thing.

I didn't realize it until I was writing this, but Hairspray doesn't really have a male lead any more than early Disney fairytales did. Most of the story is about Tracy, Edna, Velma (in charge of the tv show), and Maybelle.

I think the movie dodges the possibility of Tracy being attracted to any of the black guys by not characterizing them.

Steven Barnes said...

Master: your error was thinking "with a white woman". People constantly think I'm saying that, and I'm not. It's sex with ANY female human being. But I'm guessing that, unconsciously, part of the real problem here is that people know that if you let black men be sexual at all, we're gonna be having interracial nookie next. And THAT is still a big "Ugh!" for many audiences.

Steven Barnes said...

A Mel Brooks story, told by Barack Obama: he walked up to Brooks at a fund-raising event, and said that he loved "Blazing Saddles" and that when he was making his announcement of running for Prez it was all he could do not to say: "excuse me while I whip this out..."
Yes, Brooks was tweaking white audiences. The black-out was critical to give the movie a chance of success, but I think his heart was absolutely in the right place.

Master Plan said...

OH! Hmm, I did think it was specifically not black\black sex being looked for. Something about the emphasis on reproductive competition perhaps?

Ah well, in any case, previously we'd seen 15-25% (top movies of 2007 I think) sex rates. Your quick count of the top 410 domestic (with the cut off seeming to be 100 million) was about 72. If we round things a bit (75 out of 400) it's 18.75%. About what we'd calculated before. I'll call it 20% because the math is easier.

So then if 1 in 5 100M+ grossing films has a sex scene we'd expect the same rate in films with black male leads. Since Will Smith by himself has at least 5 of those top grossing movies we'd expect that he gets to get laid in at least one of them.

I still think there are some other interesting bits of statistical comparison which could be done but that seems to be the basic number. The more movies with black male leads there are that don't feature sex the more of a statistical blip it becomes.

I think the main issue to resolve would be odds that a perfectly qualified movie (not a family comedy, whatever else) with a perfectly qualified white male lead does not include sex.

There's plenty of other dickering to be done, but I think we're at least a standard deviation or two away from what we'd expect if cinema was indeed color-blind.

Christian H. said...

There's sexual content and then there's a sex scene and there's a graphic sex scene.

Sexual Content : James Bond
Sex Scene : Knocked Up
Graphic Sex Scene : Monster's Ball

Admittedly I only want to see Sexual Content. I am taken out of the narrative by a Sex Scene or Graphic Sex Scene.

I especially hate the thought that women are the draw but get none of the stardom. It's always the stud "takes the woman." As if any of those guys are studs.

I'm almost finished a very long post on why sex in cinema DOES NOT WORK generally.

Admittedly, I'm more concerned about how our race is represented in music. What good is it for your son to have sex in a movie if he can only hang out with under-achieving THUGS?

Again, I wonder why you want to see men have sex. Men of any race.

I guess a good question is what do you think of girl on girl. I think it's homosexual and only designed to make women into sex objects.

If you were to take the average movie with that and put it into a computer the computer would ask why the men aren't kissing.

Anonymous said...

"The royal penis is clean, Your Highness."

Wouldn't Coming to America qualify?

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Christian reminds me of something I've wondered about: why hasn't anyone, of any race, managed to produce strong positive images of masculinity for quite some time? Is it a problem with the artists? The audience? Just a matter of luck, since people who can make a near mythic image are rare and don't have a lot of choice about which image they can produce that will really affect people? The whole culture?

I'm hoping that Obama will inspire a change (including one in popular culture) toward a saner male ideal.

Anonymous said...

Ok. As I see that you happened to address my post, I will address or elaborate on what I meant:

1. Did I ever say I was ok with Halle or Thandie Newton bedding white men in their films? No I did not. I have a problem with that also. I do not feel that any black actress needs to "cross over" for the public's sake. The reason you don't have a problem with Blair is because you work with him. Were you screaming "Sambo alert" when he was in Dirty Sexy Money? Why does Blair need to cross over so bad? He was the only brother on a show supposedly set in New York! As I recall, you had a problem with Halle and Billy Bob. So did I so there is no hypocrasy.

Secondly-there has always been this mysteriousness about black men and their sexuality. They were always considered a threat to the white woman and that ideology still rings true. The Birth of a Nation mentality is still full force and effect.
I happen to love Tyler Perry and his films do extremely well. If his film does not generate $100 million so what? The film didn't have an impact? Please. Were you upset when Girlfriends got cancelled?

Also, let's also look at films that made crazy $$$ and did not have "sex scenes:" Lord of the Rings, Star Wars Episodes 2 and 3 (and please don't even bring up Annakin and Padme because that was in the first episode-which was deemed the worst episode).

So if the next James Bond film did not have a sex scene, it wouldn't be successful? You would have a problem with the film? It would still be successful unless the storyline was garbage.

You need to stop being obsessed with how much white people have sex on film as opposed to black people. How about we (like Tyler Perry) work on getting our own studios so we can show films showcasing black on black love instead constantly complaining how the current hollywood establishment is not churning out films that showcase blacks have mad sex on camera like whites do? Better yet-when is any of the 2 Tennyson Hardwick books going to be made into a film? Or are you waiting for some old studio head to actually throw you a bone? and I love the series but you have a better chance doing it yourself then waiting for somw good old boy to see your vision.

Like I said-and you said-they are not gonna showcase black men having sex as much as white men. Case in point: look at the Alex Cross series by James Patterson. That is probably the #1 series going. I chatted with JP (who is white) and he always envisioned Alex Cross as african american. Alex Cross is supposed to be gorgeous, top cop, has a PhD, established psychologist and profiler, and women both white and black, want a piece of Cross. His granmother is an integral part of the series. When the first book is written(along came a spider), Alex Cross is about 38 to 39 years of age. The subplot of the book was Cross' relationship with Agent Jezzie Flanagan (who is white) who is later found to be guilty of plotting the whole kidnapping. He and Jezzie face drama because of their relationship and his grandmother asks him to stop seeing her. Now when the book is finally adapted to film, WHO do they get to play Cross?!?! Morgan Damn Freeman-who was 60 when he filmed it and the grandmother was totally out of the film. So was his best friend and the whole subplot was GONE. People were wondering if the screenwriter even read the book! Kiss the Girls was similarly as bad (with the subplot of Cross' interaction with Kate-Ashley Judd's character). Now you think THAT was a coincidence?! Hell no. They ruined what could've been one of the best franchises with a black lead written by one of the best authors. #1-nobody wants to see Morgan naked let alone having sex, they were not going to make the film "too black" by incorporating the grandmother and best friend, and no black man is going to be sexing America's sweetheart Ashley Judd. Now that Cross has been involved romantically with sisters in the books (14 and counting), best believe they won't continue the series on film.

Have a great New Year!

Anonymous said...

BTW-you mentioned Fast and the Furious and 8 Mile.

Question-Vin Diesel is not black? If you can consider Thandie Newton and Halle black then how come not Vin Diesel? As a recall he was getting pretty fast and furious with Michelle Rodriguez. Also-did you see 8 Mile!? There was a whole scene of his friend (who as black) sexing Rabbit-eminem's girl, played by that crazy looking chick (forgot her name) and they showed him tearing her ass up on a studio console.

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The Truth said...

Asian men are perceived to be asexual and African men are perceived to be hypersexual. White male audiences are very uncomfortable with scenes of Black male on female (whether Black or non-Black female, but especially NON-Black female) love because it triggers their sub-conscious sexual inferiority complex.