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Keira Knightley Says She Won’t Do Sex Scenes “Under The Male Gaze.” That’s A Pretty Powerful Statement.

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Lately, thanks in large parts to streaming services and gender movements pushing through, we’ve seen an increase in the number of female filmmakers and storytellers who chose to focus on women-centric content. What’s encouraging is that these films and series are being well received. There could be lots of reasons for it, but one that I surely believe in is that the audience is pretty much tired of the male gaze and wants something that’s slightly richer, fresher and unafraid of flaunting its emotions. Especially after the #MeToo movement, the ‘male gaze’ has been judiciously cast aside. And actress Keira Knightley is making a rather bold statement about sex scenes filmed with a male gaze.

Before I tell you what the Pride & Prejudice actress has declared, let’s take you through what male gaze really means. Male gaze in literature or visual arts is about depicting women or the world of the art from the perspective of heterosexual men. It is thus a very masculine approach, which coloured with patriarchal overtures, presents women as sex objects that serve a man’s desires and fantasies only. The contents of the world, too, are presented in a way that are conducive to the comforts and successes of men. The male gaze thus caters to men that are behind the camera and telling the story, the men as characters in the story, and the intended audience for the art, which is also male.

Also Read: Taapsee Pannu Calls Out Superiority Complex Of Bollywood Heroes When It Comes To Women-Centric Films

Bollywood, being as patriarchal and misogynistic as the society that consumes it, is dripping with male gaze. It’s why we have item songs, or the heroine changing her clothes a million times in the song while the hero shoots the whole thing in one outfit. Or the camera purposely roving over heaving bosoms, bare midriffs and panning from bottom to top when the actress enters. Not just in physical elements, even the underlying themes—like focus on male pleasure in sex scenes, making the hero stalking the heroine as a valid display of love, and the ‘modern woman’ always laden with vices like smoking, drinking, promiscuity—are also very masculine perspectives. Similarly, when we see women adhering to stereotypical gender norms like being damsels in distress or pulling other women down, those are also a product of ‘male gaze’.

Clearly, the women today do not want themselves to be thus objectified, vilified or portrayed in these unreal ways. And taking a massive step against that sort of portrayal is Keira Knightley.

The Pirates of The Caribbean and Atonement actor has had quite the extensive career, having done indie films to mainstream franchise films and so on, some of them requiring sex scenes or for her to be in the buff. Since giving birth to two daughters with her husband, English musician James Righton, the British actress has added a no-nudity clause to her rider.

However, Deadline reported that during a podcast, Knightley told filmmaker Lulu Wang and journalist Diane Solway that she wasn’t okay with doing nude or sex scenes specifically with male directors. She said that while her decision was partly about vanity, having a body that has given birth twice, there was also the problem she had with the male gaze portrayal that deterred her from it.

“It’s partly vanity and also it’s the male gaze. I feel very uncomfortable now trying to portray the male gaze. I’m too vain and the body has had two children now and I’d just rather not stand in front of a group of men naked.”

Keira Knightley also added that she understands that directors want the actors look hot and sometimes there are also those “horrible sex scenes where you’re all greased up and everybody’s grunting”. However, she has reached a stage in her career where she doesn’t feel the need to indulge these requirements.

That being said, this isn’t an absolute ban on nudity. Knightley said that she might consider it if the story was about, say, about acceptance of one’s body or the journey of motherhood, and so on, with a female filmmaker at the helm of things.

Keira Knightley seems to have taken a very strong stance, one that has left the Internet divided. While many believe that it is an actor’s choice to do or not do something as per their comfort levels, there are others who think her statement is rather sexist. Some others have said that it is more about vanity and not being comfortable about flaunting her post childbirth body than not being okay with the ‘male gaze’.

Also Read: Paurashpur Review: Oh The Irony Of Sleazy, Soft Porn In A Show About Smashing Patriarchy!

Whatever the reason may be, I, for one, think that the male gaze is indeed a problematic device that has overstayed its welcome. And fortunately, some industry players have begun thinking this too, thanks to the conversations that the #MeToo movement kickstarted. For example, the show Sex Education on Netflix had an intimacy coordinator on set to ensure that the young actors working on the show were comfortable shooting the sex scenes. The hitherto unreleased James Bond film, which is all set to launch Lashana Lynch as the new 007 agent, has Phoebe Waller-Bridge on its team of writers to ensure that the notoriously sexist franchise does justice to its female characters.

In Bollywood, there’s still a pretty huge hill to climb before we get to a point where male gaze is actively shunned. I mean, we still have shows on ALT Balaji, like Paurashpur, that talk about female empowerment in its storylines but are all about the male gaze in its storytelling.

Personally, I applaud Keira Knightley for making a stance.

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