Over the weekend, I saw the world premiere of the documentary (A)sexual at the Frameline International LGBT Film Festival.
To be honest, I did not entirely expect to give this film a positive review. I thought that, since I'm an asexual blogger, I'd inevitably spot something horribly wrong with the film. I'm also not a fan of the documentary genre. And to top it all off, I'm one of those movie critics who gives movies thumbs down by default.
But I liked this film. It opened with a bunch of people on white screens giving their first reactions to the word "asexual". They're fairly standard ignorant reactions, though told in a funny way. The audience was laughing the whole time. Eventually, these reactions become juxtaposed with further information showing the fundamental mistakes being made. Many topics are introduced this way, including "Do asexuals masturbate?", "Shouldn't you try sex first?", "Can asexuals fall in love?", and "Why should asexuals ever want to gather?"
The main thread of the movie was a profile of David Jay, the founder of asexuality.org. We get to see DJ's mad rollerblading skills. We see people recoiling from him at the Pride Parade, as if he were contagious (or cheering him on enthusiastically). We see his close relationship (romantic? non-romantic?) with a couple, and the subsequent breakup. This is great, because it provided a much-needed depiction of not just romantic and aromantic asexuals, but asexuals who fail to fit the binary.
Other asexuals are profiled too. The ones that got the most screen-time were Swank Ivy (creator of educational YouTube videos), an asexual couple, and this older woman whose asexuality was a life-long experience. A few of the people were portrayed as rather eccentric (one person in the couple demonstrated her nail-in-nose trick), but it was humanizing rather than excessive.
Of course, I'd inevitably spot something wrong, so despite my positive review I must also devote some words to my biggest complaint. Basically, there is no mention of the sexual/asexual spectrum (except in the Q&A session). Being on that spectrum, I naturally consider this important.
The movie correctly defines asexuality as not experiencing sexual attraction. But as far as the movie is concerned, the major consequence of this is not being interested in having sex. It's made pretty clear that asexuals can and do have sex, but it's mostly assumed that they'd really rather not. As far as generalizations go, this is a pretty accurate one, but there are exceptions. And the exceptions become more frequent as you consider people on the asexual/sexual spectrum. But that spectrum was never mentioned, not as far as I recall.
The closest approach was an interview with DJ after his breakup. He said he was interested in trying out partnered relationships rather than community relationships for a change. And then, clearly conflicted about it, he said that sex might have to be part of that, since it's hard to find partnered relationships without it. Frankly, this interview was confusing. In the Q&A session, someone asked if he didn't feel like he was betraying the community by saying such things. On the contrary! That short interview was the closest the film came to representing the asexual/sexual spectrum, as well as the whole possibility of asexual/sexual relationships. I just wish it had been portrayed more fully and positively.
My boyfriend thought the asexual couple seemed a bit tokenized. I'm not sure how he caught this, but it's true. Romantic asexuals are common; actual asexual couples are not. But for some reason the public is enamored with the idea, so the AVEN media team always has to have a couple handy. The same does not hold true of asexual/sexual relationships, even though I suspect they are slightly more prevalent.
Update March 2012: Someone from the couple told me she did not feel she was tokenized. Looking back, I'm not really sure what I meant either. Therefore I retract the statement.
This documentary will show in Newfest film festival in New York in July.