Maria Finitzo’s documentary The Dilemma of Desire, currently screening virtually at the Athena Film Festival, examines female sexuality and pleasure against the backdrop of the repressive, toxic and macho culture represented by the former Trump administration, QAnon, Trumpers, “Christians,” the paternalistic Republican Party and all caught up in the “normalcy” of misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic and racist folkways. Interestingly, Democrats and other political parties are not exempt from an examination of the patriarchy in this film. The myths and follies of patriarchal thought and behavior are ancient and baked in by males, females and non gender described, who have bought into the lies of female sensuality for millennia.
More specifically, it has been males who define their own machismo by the ways that they oppress and control women. To dominate, whether for the profit motive or more psychological reasons, males and accepting females define conceptualizations of beauty, femininity, sensuality and the pleasure they are psychologically and scientifically able to seek based upon these confined and erroneous definitions. Finitzo, a two-time Peabody Award-winner blows apart the taboos and shameful strictures about how women must think, react and define their bodies and their sensuality. Focusing on four women who have broken open the boundaries in themselves to understand their bodies, Finitzo conducts extensive interviews with them as they help empower others in their journey deeper into their own sexuality and sensuality.
Finitzio approaches central themes that paternalism for centuries has rendered women powerless and voiceless, manifested in the simple act that women do not even understand or know their own sexual organs to be able to draw them. This lack of literacy about their sensuality and sexuality has been a revelation in the life and work of Sophia Wallace, whose work about “Cliteracy,” Finitzio uses as a focal point around which she creates the grist of this documentary about four women who in their own way are attempting to change folkways and cultural assumptions about female pleasure and desire.
Memed by artist Sophia Wallace, “Cliteracy” is the scientific knowledge that the clitoris is fundamental to the female orgasm. The lies that the vagina is the seat of desire is a myth propagated by males, for obvious reasons. When women have felt let down in sex with their partners, they have taken the shame and blame upon themselves. The educated male has countered this with his empathetic understanding that female genitalia is more complex and deserves its own attention during intimacy. If the male partner is not empathetic or understanding, women for centuries have been left to “endure” sex as a chore and do it to beget children which they alone have been tasked to raise until recent times. Women who have established intimate relationships with women have actually received much more sensual pleasure during their lifetimes. Thus, the idea that most women don’t experience vaginal pleasure during intercourse (only 25% do according to the scientific data Finitzio states in the film) is a much needed revelation that Dilemma of Desire emphasizes.
Using her interviewees as gatekeepers into this revelation, Finiztio chronicles key points about how the patriarchy has kept women in the darkness about their own bodies. The end result has been to hamper their freedom, their voice, their courage, their empowerment. The documentarian examines how Wallace is changing culture; how Dr. Stacey Dutton, a neuroscientist, enlightens medical science about the biology of the clitoris; how Dr. Lisa Diamond unravels outdated notions about women’s arousal; and how Ti Chang, an industrial designer, creates elegant vibrators for women that look nothing like the novelty toys in sex shops which are useless and created by men. To elucidate what these four have discovered, Finitzio interviews Umnia, Becca, Jasmine, Sunny, and Coriama who provide their life experiences about themselves and their relationships with men and women in their investigation of their own body’s capability of receiving pleasure.
Finitzio’s work is mind-blowing. She uses a maximum of effort to cobble together the interviews and create the backdrops that enhance the commentary of these truth-tellers. The cinematography, music and editing all enhance the overarching message that to be free, women must understand all parts of their being to appreciate all of who and what they can be. A defining moment comes when Sophia Wallace discusses what she heard from her cousin about her grandmother’s confession. Their grandmother had five children, but didn’t think she had ever experienced an orgasm or pleasure during sex. Meanwhile, of course, their grandfather’s experience was a sure thing. For Wallace, this was an eye-opening tragedy because her grandmother didn’t understand or enjoy what her body was capable of experiencing because she was intellectually, philosophically, culturally, sensually chained by the patriarchy whether wittingly or unwittingly.
This is a must-see film for men, women, non-binary, all who are walking around in a fleshly body and want to break free from the dilemma of desire that especially ties women up in knots and oppresses them in all of their being. The point is to understand and become “cliterate.” At least that opportunity must be allowed and Sophia Wallace’s work should be in a book, not just on a TEDTALK or as a conceptual museum piece in an art gallery. Thus far, book publishers are afraid to deal with such an important and culturally revelatory work. The excuse is that female editors are hesitant about sharing the information in book form with other females in the industry, for example libraries, universities. The fear exemplifies why “cliteracy” has remained in the realm of the arcane and it is a tragedy of oppression.
Finitzio’s film spotlights the core issues of this tragedy. And in due season, Wallace will be known globally in print as well as virtually for her work “Cliteracy.” Dilemma of Desire is screening on the Athena Film Festival website and other screening platforms. CLICK HERE FOR ALL THE ATHENA FILM FESTIVAL OFFERINGS INCLUDING THIS EXTRAORDINARY FILM.
Beans Tracey Deer’s award winning narrative film, inspired by true events, is one of the superb offerings this year at the 11th Annual Athena Film Festival. Throughout March, Athena FF is holding digital Q and As, screenings, talks and more, all uplifting women in film’ and women’s leadership. It is the only women’s film festival in New York City, and sans pandemic it is held at Barnard College. Hopefully, Athena Film Festival will return live for its myriad activities, screenings, conferences, Q and As, parties and awards ceremonies in 2022.
The events in Beans and major thrust of the narrative are inspired by Tracey Deer’s own experiences as a young girl going through the cataclysmic trials of the Mohawk Resistance in the community of Kanesatake, near the Town of Oka, on the north shore of Montreal, Canada. Written by Tracey Deer and Meredith Vuchnich, Beans is a hybrid coming of age story and social justice film set against the backdrop of a 78-day standoff (11 July–26 September 1990) between Mohawk protesters, Quebec police, the RCMP and the Canadian Army. The standoff arose when without permission or negotiation Mohawk land was grabbed by developers who intended to expand a golf course and build condos on lands disputed since 1760 and which involved desecrating an ancient cemetery.
During this Oka Crisis, the character “Beans,” whose Indigenous Mohawk name is Tekahentahkhwa (played by the excellent Kiawentiio) learns to appreciate her identity as a Mohawk. She vies between accepting her mother’s wish for her to go to a tony white school to establish a better life for herself and hanging tough with cruel, bullying April (Paulina Alexis) who abuses and exploits Beans’ yearning for friendship using power dominance and browbeating to release her own inner torments.
Tracey Deer’s characterizations are spot-on, as are the actors who portray Beans, April, and Bean’s mom Lily (Rainbow Dickerson). All of the women are representative. Lily is attempting to raise her daughters, teach them successful values, yet negotiate her husband who is a protestor and warrior battling with his countrymen for Mohawk land rights. Beans is torn between her father’s fight and showing what tough resistance is and growing up to be a young woman apart from her mother’s selecting an identity for her and expanding beyond the “sweet-natured,” innocent, good girl.
As Beans worms her way into April’s cold heart by obeying her instruction, and accepting April’s toughening-up abuse, she learns the warrior way to be brash, bullying and fear-inspiring. However, when her eyes are opened to the difficulties April has with her family, Beans learns that becoming inured to pain and not expressing emotion is self-damaging.
Throughout Beans’ and her family’s journey through the, at times harrowing and punishing 78-day standoff, we see their courage in resistance.. They suffer brutalization from the surrounding community who is caught up in the events. The themes of the film about social activism in returning Indigenous lands back to the Mohawk, represent an ongoing struggle by various Indigenous populations who still fight against land grabs that began when European colonials first visited the Americas. For the Mohawk in this area of Quebec, the Provincial government and Canada have still not returned the land to them, though the cemetery is untouched and the golf course has not been expanded. Subsequently, the Mohawk still seek the lands which belong to them in this ancient dispute which continues to this day.
Beans was the opening night film in the festival. Look for it on IMBD and elsewhere for its performances, storyline and fine direction by Tracey Deer. It is deserving of the awards it won: three awards at festivals (Tracey Deer won VIFF for Best Canadian Feature Film). It was nominated for five other awards.