Valentine’s weekend is undoubtedly the perfect date for the wonderfully named Bean Flicks, Birmingham’s first ethical and feminist porn festival, bringing together filmmakers, academics, podcasters and plenty more to both watch and discuss everything under the pornographic sun. We talked to co-organiser and Birmingham City University lecturer Gemma Commane about the ethos behind the festival, which aims to completely change the way people think about pornographic films.
So how did the idea for Bean Flicks come about?
It started with a one day pilot event we did a couple of years ago at The Mockingbird, which was really a response to the world of mainstream pornography and its negative depictions of women. We want to show that there is a lot of diversity outside that world. Bean Flicks is really about normalising and celebrating pleasure for a range of bodies and sexualities.
Do you think the word ‘pornography’ has to be reclaimed? How do you differentiate between erotica, adult film, pornography - all the different terminology?
Porn is such a loaded word. We’re trying to demystify that. Let’s face it, people do watch porn, and there's lots of bad porn about on cheap online tube sites. We want to highlight diverse independent producers and artists like Vex Ashley and Mistress Tess, both of whom are screening films at Bean Flicks. Womens’ bodies are policed and objectified in mainstream porn - they offer standardised bodies, and largely heterosexual sex. We want to disrupt the male gaze, which is what mainstream porn is founded on.
Do you think the male gaze is slowly becoming less dominant in porn?
I think it is changing, thanks to the advent of the digital economy, and with performers being able to film themselves in their bedrooms. The people participating in it has changed too. I think with all these tube sites, there are issues in terms of categorisation, of fetishising certain types of sexualities and bodies.
Have you had any problems in organising the festival, just in terms of screening pornographic imagery to the public?
Obtaining certificates from the council was straightforward in 2018, but this year we’ve had to fight to keep the festival running. One of the central discussions we want to have is actually around the ethics of censorship, the double standards in the way that women's pleasure and sexuality are still viewed. But it is really encouraging that we’re ultimately able to hold this event, one which is all about celebrating diverse sexuality in the second city.
What kind of audiences are you expecting?
Bean Flicks is a safe space, and we want to be as inclusive as possible. It’s not targeted to one particular crowd. We want inquisitive people who are keen to talk about gender, sexuality, and discuss what ethical porn and sex positivity means to them.
What do you mean by ‘ethical porn’?
When I say that, I mean things like the performers being paid the same, and also discussions around consent. With a lot of these smaller, independent producers, consent is given on camera before the performers have sex, or the porn itself is based on the performers’ own desires. It’s all about confronting wider social norms about womens’ sexual pleasure. Women are still demonized for being in the porn industry. We want to say sex matters, and that watching ethical porn matters.
Bean Flicks takes place at Centrala in Birmingham on Friday 14 and Saturday 15 February. More information here.