Female Desire on Screen

Flipping the switch on a century of cinema's male gaze with a collection exploring women's sexual expression in film.

In conjunction with the release of anthology She Found It at the Movies: Women Writers on Sex, Desire and Cinema (edited by Christina Newland), we present a season of films exploring the under-discussed desires of female audiences and their onscreen counterparts.

This online season aims to encourage discussion about female viewers' relationship with moviegoing and the ideas that cinema gave us about what sex should be. From queer coming-of-age stories to documentaries about male strippers, Female Desire attempts to flip the switch on a century of cinema's male gaze, and find space for women's sexual expression in film.

Below Christina Newland contextualises a selection of films through the prism of female desire; the collection will be supported by a series of q&s and discussions on BFI online platforms from 24 April 2020.

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Gangster1996109 minsDirector: Andy Wachowski

A seductive neo-noir and cult classic centring on lesbian desire in dangerous circumstances.

Sexy, boldly feminist and utterly disinterested in pandering to male audiences, this crime-thriller centring on lesbian lust is as violent as it is seductive. The Wachowski sisters’ film features Jennifer Tilly as a gangster’s moll who meets, and is seduced by, ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon), who plans to steal money from the mob.

Rent for £3.50

Dirty DancingDirty Dancing

Drama1987101 minsDirector: Emile Ardolino

A retro, music-filled classic about teen romances and strict attitudes to sex.

As ‘feel-good’ as they come, Dirty Dancing is a beloved romantic drama that offers a counter-narrative to traditional ideas about women and sex, including its pro-choice messaging. Jennifer Grey’s Baby is a plucky, desirous feminist hero who offers everywoman identification for the audience.

Rent for £3.50

The Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Diary of a Teenage Girl

Drama2015102 minsDirector: Marielle Heller

The US indie hit tells the bold, bawdy and hilarious story of a teenager's sexual awakening after she sleeps with her mother’s boyfriend.

Marielle Heller’s frank, unapologetic debut feature is about a teenage girl in 70s California, and her blossoming sexual relationship with her mother’s boyfriend. It’s a hilariously crude and poignant coming-of-age story, touching on the stumbles we make on our way to sexual maturity.

Rent for £3.50

In the CutIn the Cut

Thriller2003119 minsDirector: Jane Campion

This feminist erotic thriller starring Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo adds a frisson of dangerous sex to a murder investigation.

Reversing the traditional tropes of the neo-noir, Jane Campion’s critically re-evaluated erotic thriller offers a frisson of dangerous sex to proceedings, with an homme fatale instead of a conniving dame. Caught up in the investigation of a series of grisly murders in her neighborhood, Meg Ryan falls hard for Mark Ruffalo’s homicide detective.

Currently unavailable

Set It OffSet It Off

Crime1996124 minsDirector: F. Gary Gray

A tight-knit group of friends decide to rob banks in this unapologetically subversive display of black female agency.

Starring Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith, Set it Off puts feminist awakening and female friendship at the forefront, above sex. But within its heist-movie parameters, it becomes a surprisingly moving treatise on the nature of self-love and sexual confidence, centring female pleasure and selfhood above the attractions of any man.

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