By the end of the 1970s, a general cultural backlash against the sexual revolution began to develop in many areas, partly fueled by growing fears of sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes and AIDS. The United States, the United Kingdom, and West Germany, for example, elected conservative politicians that promised to restore "traditional values"—which generally meant reestablishing the patriarchal heterosexual family unit. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher promoted a "heritage" culture, which translated into a number of British films taking place in a nostalgic era of Victorian propriety. In the United States, under the presidency of Ronald Reagan (served 1981–1989), "slasher" horror films became popular, visiting violent retribution on young people who had premarital sex (with particular grisly focus on punishing sexually aggressive women).
The sexual revolution was also met with outrage outside the United States and western Europe. As the global reach of Hollywood cinema expanded with the growth of home video in the 1980s, many postcolonial societies complained of a new cultural imperialism. One of the major complaints was that United States and European movies were too sexually explicit, supplanting indigenous concepts of sexuality with Western ideas. (By the end of the 1980s, the pornography industries had moved almost solely into video to provide better distribution.) For example, film censors in Iran after the abdication of the Shah in 1979 focused major attention on what were considered Western-influenced displays of sexuality, particularly regarding women. Attempts by filmmakers in India to discuss lesbian desire in films such as Fire (1996) and Girlfriend (2004) met with censorship troubles and then protests and riots in the theaters. Many in India, as well as in various Asian and African nations, consider homosexuality to be a Western idea that is being imported to their communities through popular culture (even though evidence of some form of same-sex desire can be found in almost every culture's history).
Yet even in the face of such reactions, discussions and displays of sexuality continued in cinema. While on-screen heterosexual kisses were still rare in Indian film, scenes of women dancing "indecorously" in clinging wet saris became a popular feature of Bombay cinema by the late 1980s. While explicit scenes of sexual intercourse remained banned in Japanese cinema, an entire genre of soft-core "pink films" flourished. Furthermore, Japanese animators found a way around this ban by having female characters in explicit sex scenes with aliens instead of humans (an entire
subgenre called hentai , often referred to as "tentacle porn" in the US).
As the 1990s began, various films seemed to indicate a renewed attempt to present serious discussions of sexuality on screen, including The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989, UK), Henry & June (1990, US), and the films of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. Together these films led to a small censorship crisis in the United States, which resulted in the creation of the NC-17 rating to distinguish these films from straightforward pornography. German filmmaker Monika Treut explored marginalized sexualities such as female sadomasochism ( Female Misbehavior , 1992) and transgendered sexuality ( Gendernauts—Eine Resie durch die Geschlechter , 1999). Tied to the rise of radical AIDS activism in the West, the New Queer Cinema movement of the early 1990s also challenged "traditional values" by openly celebrating sexual diversity, and at times even challenging the stability of sexual categories. Although centered in the United States, New Queer Cinema included filmmakers from Canada (John Greyson, Bruce LaBruce), the United Kingdom (Derek Jarman, Isaac Julien) and India (Pratibha Parmar).
Such efforts to confront sex and sexuality in its materiality continued with the start of the new millennium. Independent American directors such as Larry Clark ( Kids , 1995; Bully , 2001) and Todd Solondz ( Happiness , 1998) have made forthright pictures about childhood and teenage sex, and pederasty. A number of nonpornographic films also began including explicit heterosexual intercourse or oral sex, including Baise-moi ( Kiss Me , 2000, France), Intimacy ( Intimité , 2001, UK/France), The Brown Bunny (2003, US), and 9 Songs (2004, UK). Many of these films caused scandals and protests. Baise moi , for example, was banned in Australia and Canada, and was recut by censors in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. Some analysts have pointed out that complaints about the film tended to center around depictions of sexual acts rather than the excessive violence of the film. While some defended these films as attempts to portray sex honestly and without shame, or to investigate the links between sex and violence, others decried them as simply a new version of exploitation and sexual licentiousness. Thus, over the past century of film history, the same debates about sexuality and cinema have continued to rage.
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