BY LYNSEY G.
Ms. Naughty is a multiple award–winning independent erotic filmmaker whose work has always struck Luna Luna as beautiful, smart, and sexy. Her website, BrightDesire.com, just celebrated its third birthday and has been nominated for XBIZ and AVN Awards—two of most prestigious awards in the adult entertainment industry. Luna Luna sat her down to talk about her work, her goals, her inspirations, and her take on “the female gaze” in porn.
Hi, Ms. Naughty! Or should I call you Louise? What’s your preferred moniker?
I go by Ms. Naughty. I’m Louise Lush on Facebook because they forcefully changed my name to that. One thing I wish I’d done earlier in my porn career: pick a good pseudonym and stick with it.
Thank you so much for taking some time to talk to Luna Luna! We’re big believers that art and sex can go together in beautiful ways, but it seems like that’s so rarely done on film that many people don’t know they can fit together at all. As a filmmaker who puts those two things together all the time, what do you think makes the marriage of the two so difficult for most of us?
I don’t think it’s necessarily difficult to make arty film that deals with sex, although there are historical and cultural barriers that tend to get in the way. The taboo on showing real sex in mainstream film means that there’s an artificial wall built between “real art” and “porn.” But those things aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s only people’s concept of “genre” that has built that wall. Of course, mainstream porn can be pretty sexist and tacky; the commercial imperative means people don’t spend much time on porn scenes and there are conventions about how it’s shot that focus more on arousing the (presumably male) viewer rather than giving time to cinematography, story, character or emotional impact. But I do try and bring at least some of those aspects to my work. Otherwise, why bother?
I think I’d be justified in calling you an artist, particularly after seeing your work on the short films “Dear Jiz,” “Hand Jobs,” and “Bacchanalia.” Do you think of yourself as an artist?
It’s funny, I’ve never claimed that title for myself. I’d say I was a writer or a filmmaker but not necessarily an artist. I suspect that my desire to make money from my work prevents me from claiming it as pure art. It feels like that word should be reserved for “purer” motives.
You are comfortable with the term “pornographer” as a title, however. A lot of female filmmakers who work in feminist depictions of sex shy away from the “p” word, in favor of “erotic film.” What do you see as the difference, and why do you use “porn?”
There’s the old saying: “With erotica you use a feather, with pornography you use the whole chicken.” My work goes beyond the feather: it has explicit sex and it’s designed to arouse the viewer, so I don’t have a problem using the word porn. But I’ll also describe it as erotica because I think it is erotic, and I like the most positive connotations of the word. My work has important things to say about gender, society, relationships, and sexuality; so it’s artistic erotica. To be honest, what works on Google is often the defining factor for what words I use to describe my work: feminist porn, porn for women, ethical erotica.
The definition of “pornography” really varies according to who you ask. For some, “porn” only means mainstream explicit content that’s all about spitting and choking and degrading women. For others it can mean Lady Chatterley’s Lover or the softcore movies you can buy at hotels. And the whole “erotica versus porn” linguistic debate reveals a lot about gender and class expectations; you can see an eagerness to divide things into “high art” (erotica) and “low art” (populist porn), “nice” films that women would like (erotica) and straight-up down-and-dirty porn. I’m happy to just say I make both of those things.
You work hard to prioritize female pleasure and desire in your filming. Can you tell me a little bit about how you show “the female gaze” (or any other term you prefer) in making films?
I find the term “the female gaze” very useful. For me it means offering female perspective and acknowledging via language and visual cues that women are the primary audience. It’s also important to allow the women in the audience to identify with the women in the film. From a practical filmmaking perspective, it can be simple stuff like not cutting the man out of the frame (almost all porn films do that). I’ll make the protagonist female and make her journey and satisfaction an important part of the scene. I’ll happily offer up the male body as a thing to admire and enjoy by focusing on his face, his muscles, his cock. In “Tease” I made that part of the story—he strips for her, and we see that she is very much enjoying looking at him. Her gaze becomes our gaze.
I think “the female gaze” is part of a wider questioning of the standard tropes of porn. It’s about asking: How can we show sex differently? How can we be more creative and inclusive in our work?
You not only subvert the patriarchy with your films, but you also do some work that’s flirting with the boundaries of the law where you live. Do you feel like an outlaw?
I feel generally frustrated with the ways that legal systems around the world criminalize aspects of consensual sex and sexuality. That includes sex work and porn. I do work in a difficult legal environment where there’s uncertainty, and it means that I can’t be as open as I want to be about my work—I’ve turned down TV appearances and I try to stay a bit incognito in case people recognize me. There is always a worry that I could get into trouble doing what I do, and it certainly has a chilling effect on what I can ultimately produce. I wish I could have a proper studio instead of furtively filming in hotel rooms. But I also have a firm belief that what I’m doing is very important because I’m advancing people’s understanding of sexuality and gender. I’m making a positive contribution to the world. So many people are worried that porn is a corrupting thing. I’m making films that show sex as a joyful, beautiful human activity. That shouldn’t ever be seen as a bad thing.
Although your films have a feeling of joy behind them, some go to pretty kinky and even dark places. As a celebrator of the beauty and delight inherent in sex, how do you grapple with the darker aspects that can come with it?
When it comes to BDSM and kink, I’m well aware that this too is a beautiful part of sex. It may seem dark and it can be about exploring negative emotions or extreme sensation, but it’s all consensual and it is simply a different way of exploring bodies, pleasure, and human feeling. It’s a legitimate part of many people’s sexuality and I feel it’s perfectly cool to show that in its honesty. I’ve also shot a few solo films where masturbation is a release from sadness or longing. I think sex can be healing, even if it starts in a dark space. It’s about celebrating and loving the self.
I notice that a lot of your work eroticizes male bodies in beautiful ways. That’s rarely done in today’s culture; do you have a difficult time directing your male performers to show off their sexiness?
I love showing male bodies and I wish more people did it; I want equal opportunity perving! It can be quite challenging to think of ways to depict masculinity in a sexy way and yes, the male models can sometimes feel awkward with what they’re doing. There’s a limited set of clichés, and I’ll admit I’ve used a lot of them, simply because we have such a limited visual language when it comes to admiring men. In the future I am hoping to play a bit more with gender; I love the idea of stereotypical masculine traits being mixed up with things we think of as typically “feminine,” e.g. heels or suspenders.
In trying to offer variety and new perspectives in your work, do you ever film things or share things that don’t really do it for you, personally?
Yes, I’ve filmed some scenes that weren’t really my thing, or they showcased a perspective that I didn’t share. For example, Kim and Jay are into spanking and caning and I am not someone who is into pain; I’ve never even gotten my ears pierced. So their enjoyment of sex is somewhat alien to me, but I was still interested in it from a filmmaker’s or a documentary maker’s point of view. I want to give space to others to tell their stories. It can be a challenge to show that different perspective when you don’t really share it, but I do my best to listen and learn.
What inspires you? Do the same things that inspire you creatively also turn you on?
I find inspiration in the work of other erotic filmmakers. I’ve just come back from the Berlin Porn Film Festival brimming with ideas, inspired by what other people are doing. But I also find a lot of inspiration watching music videos. There’s often some really great concepts, and I have a notebook full of ideas I want to use, if only I had a studio and a decent budget!
I should also say, half of the things I shoot are made in collaboration with my performers. I often ask them if there’s something they’d like to do or someone they want to perform with. So inspiration can often come of their suggestions and things can change on the day of the shoot based on things my performers have said. It makes for a really interesting creative process. The idea for “Dear Jiz” came from Jiz [Lee], not me. I wanted Jiz to share a fantasy; they weren’t comfortable with that and instead suggested reading fan letters. The end result is so much better, thanks to Jiz’s suggestion.
Where can Luna Luna readers find your work?
All of my films are at BrightDesire.com.