Natalie Portman says lesbian sex scenes get people to the movies

The lesbian sex scene in Black Swan is under two minutes long. If you went to see it in the theater, were you spending your hard-earned 10 bucks for those two minutes?

Natalie Portman thinks you might have. She’s on the cover of the current issue of Entertainment Weekly and inside she tells the mag:

Everyone was so worried about who was going to want to see this movie. I remember them being like, ‘How do you get guys to a ballet movie? How do you get girls to a thriller? The answer is a lesbian scene. Everyone wants to see that.

So, in case we all thought the sex scene was integral to the plot, it was completely gratuitous in conception. And that’s disheartening. The whole reason I trusted Darren Aranofsky with this idea from the beginning (as if he needed my approval, I know) was because I was a fan of his work, and his last lesbian in The Wrestler was integral to the storyline and a great character.

And Natalie Portman is not off the hook, either. She has been a large part of the film since the beginning — before it even became financed and fleshed out. So besides the fact I didn’t enjoy Black Swan all that much, this just adds insult to injury: the lesbian sex scene was a plot to get butts in seats and money in pockets, and we apparently all fell for it.

But is this idea true, outside of when it features a winning director and stars Portman and Mila Kunis as lesbian sex engagers? This was pretty much the perfect storm for Black Swan, but it isn’t a proven method for filmmakers.

The top-grossing lesbian-themed film of all time is The Hours and that does include anything other than kissing. It also features major actresses and is based on a best-selling book. The second highest grossing was Monster and no one was paying to see Charlize Theron have sex with Christina Ricci, at least not disguised as Aileen Wurnos. They were going to see how amazing she was in the role.

The other highest grossing films that feature lesbian content: Rent (no sex), Victor/Victoria (no sex) and The Kids Are All Right (no real explicit sex). But the exception on this list is Frida, which did include lesbian sexuality between Salma Hayek and Karine Plantadit-Bageot. However it’s arguable as to if this scene or Salma’s kiss with Ashley Judd was what brought the $56 million dollars in. Frida Kahlo is an historic figure, and Salma’s performance was highly praised. Though the same could be said, of course, for Natalie Portman in Black Swan.

These films all seem to have one thing in common: Their lesbian sexuality has more to do with the plot and relationships between the women on screen than the two minute sex scene in Black Swan. Although the sex scene in Black Swan works, it’s hard not to look at it differently now, knowing that it was written in specifically to make people want to see “a ballet film.”

And they have been successful. Even before Black Swan was filming, the script was posted on the internet and reports came out that the sex was going to be about the characters “hungry” for one another; that it would be aggressive. Shortly after, Mila and Natalie were both talking about it in the press. Mila did not want to discuss the script because it was “under lock and key,” but acknowledged the sex was happening. Natalie, however, had no qualms about explaining how extreme it was.

So Natalie is right: putting the pre-hyped lesbian sex scene in Black Swan got men and women to the theaters. The film grossed $1,394,265 in its first week, and that was in a limited release at only 17 theaters. But the good news? As I have written about before, the fact that the scene included somewhat explicit depictions of women having sex was able to secure an R rating has shown progress for the MPAA. But will that same courtesy extend to films that don’t star actresses like Portman and Kunis and distributed by Fox Searchlight? We can only hope.

Until then, I’ll try not to feel bitter about being duped, even though I’d like to think I would have given the film a chance without the promise of “lesbian sex.”

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