A WOMAN STORMS EROTIC FILMMAKING
HOW TO RE-WRITE THE RULES OF FEMALE EROTICA IN A MALE DOMINATED BUSINESS. MEET ERIKA LUST: ENTREPRENEUR, MOTHER, VISIONARY FILMMAKER.
Since storming into adult cinema in 2008, Erika has flipped male-dominated porn on its head. As a creator, she uses the adult genre to make films that exhilarate the senses and the mind. But most importantly, as a feminist, she challenges the industry’s preconceptions of sex and relationships and invites women to explore the depths of their own sexuality.
Interview Natasha Drewnicki
Photography Stefan Jermann
In 2008, Erika Lust began her first forays into cinema with her debut movie, The Good Girl. In this twenty-minute short, a young woman seduces the pizza delivery boy through an unexpected twist of events, thus liberating herself from her own fears of sexual freedom. The Good Girl received over two million online views within the first week of its online release and garnered several prestigious awards, heralding Erika’s arrival as talented adult-film maker.
Erika’s refreshing departure from the traditional porn mold sent ripples of excitement and admiration throughout the industry. But she also became the target of venomous hate mail from traditional porn subscribers, who went as far as to label her a “femi-nazi.” Why was the character in The Good Girl such a threat to porn? What was so controversial about an empowered woman enjoying sex on her own terms?
One bright spring morning, I go to interview Erika at her headquarters. A cheerful and attractive Swedish woman greets me with a kiss on both cheeks, shows me to her office and lights a scented candle, then disappears for a few moments to take care of some important business before we begin.
Tucked away on the sixth floor of a converted factory, the creative freedom of Poble Nou is exactly what inspired her to set up an office here in 2009. “Erika Lust was born in Poble Nou!” she later tells me.
Like Erika herself, the office is small but neat; one wall is lined with erotic literature and a storeroom houses all sorts of artfully designed merchandise, DVDs, toys and playthings. I read her statement of intent, in large, bold type on the wall behind the desk: "I pledge to create new waves in adult cinema, to show all of the passion, intimacy, love and lust in sex: where the feminine viewpoint is vital, the aesthetic a pleasure to all of the senses, and those seeking an alternative to porn can find a home.”
I’m keen to understand what drives Erika to make these movies in such a macho realm. In another interview she said that, excluding actresses and make-up artists, only 2% of the adult-entertainment industry is female.
I’d already seen a few of her films prior to meeting (whoever says research is boring doesn’t get to interview Erika Lust!) and – compared to mainstream porn, with its strip lighting and constricted gaze on faceless body parts – these are an invigorating slap on the bottom to watch. You meet real women who feel ridiculous wearing uncomfortable heels to a date, with folds of flesh, cellulite and gaps in conversation, the butterflies of a first encounter and the taste of a second kiss. Relationships unfurl on screen before it gets to the good bit… but actually, that is the good bit.
Erika returns to her desk, bright-eyed and eager to begin. I can sense she isn’t one to mince her words, so we get straight to the interview.
WHAT DRIVES YOU TO CREATE ADULT FILMS?
When I first saw a porn movie with my boyfriend back in Sweden, it seemed so cold and robotic and it didn’t feel or look like real sexual relations between two human beings at all. It made me uncomfortable. I was always very aware, through my studies, that sexuality is deeply connected to our happiness. Something didn’t feel right about porn. I began to question it. Porn is supposed to be a genre you can enjoy and relax with, but the traditional aesthetic seemed anti-erotic to me and very far from my own values. It was hard to watch without feeling disgusted by it.
As a creator, I’m turned on beautiful imagery. When we look at art, we look for values that resonate with our own, but in mainstream adult cinema you only see the values of middle-aged men: their ideas, their sexism, homophobia and aggression. I knew there had to be another way of exploring sexual experiences in a way that I found enjoyable and that was enjoyable for women.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE ADULT FILM INDUSTRY?
I graduated from Lund University in Sweden with a degree in Political Science, specializing in Gender studies and Feminism. I originally intended to work for an NGO. After graduating, I came to Barcelona with a Spanish scholarship and then began working as a production assistant in the advertising industry. I fell in love with film because there’s so much opportunity to tell complex and layered stories through this medium, so I started a night course to learn the technicalities of it. Women’s rights are something I’ve always felt strongly about and film seemed like the natural medium to explore this. My work is still political – as a feminist, I’m showing my vision of relationships between men and women.
HOW DO YOU CREATE YOUR WORK?
The creative process is extremely time-consuming. I sit in front of the computer for very long periods while writing. It’s relaxing to write uninterrupted because there are no limitations. It’s liberating. I began our latest project, XConfessions, because so many people had emailed their own candid fantasies and sexual confessions. They were looking for someone to listen to their ideas, to hear their voice. It feels great to know that people can identify with the films I make and want to share their own experiences with me. The letters I received were so revealing that I just had to sit down and create a script for them, which is how XConfessions was born.
WHAT KIND OF RESISTANCE HAVE YOU FACED?
When I first started, I had never worked in the adult industry before. It’s very frustrating to communicate a message that is new and different. I still can’t use Paypal, I have problems with banks. Facebook recently closed my account when I posted “Mi coño, mis normas” ("my vagina, my rules"), about pro-life choices. A lot of individuals – members of an anti-abortion group – flagged it as inappropriate because they said it was“promoting self-harm.” How ridiculous! It’s my fight – I must move around these limits and adapt to these hurdles, but it is very frustrating. There are still so many preconceptions and prejudices to navigate. It will take time.
WHAT’S SURPRISED YOU MOST ABOUT THE INDUSTRY?
I’ve spoken to a lot of actors and actresses who’ve had many negative experiences. Some of them arrive on set and don’t know who they’ll even be shooting with, others do their own makeup and provide all of the props. Others aren’t paid fairly. There is a lot of exploitation in this industry. So when I shoot films, we have a make-up artist, we try to create a warm and inviting, comfortable atmosphere. I ask the actors if they know someone they’d be comfortable working with. It’s a collaborative effort.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE PEOPLE TO LEARN FROM YOUR FILMS?
Pornography is a topic that cannot not be discussed. There’s a great urgency and opportunity to enjoy adult cinema without feeling disgusted by sex. Adult cinema can be a wonderful way to learn about sexuality. Young people have very easy access to porn today, even before they begin to have sexual experiences. I want them to understand how relationships really are between men and women. It’s not just about pleasing your boyfriend or about being a “porn-star” in the bedroom. We urgently need to get that message through to the younger generation.
DO ALL WOMEN HAVE THEIR OWN ERIKA LUST?
I am Erika Lust when I am creating. She is daring and bold, she pushes me to do things and she gives me the confidence I don’t always have as Erika Hallqvist. Thanks to Erika Lust I have a profession I love and a business that is growing by almost 40% every year. We should all feel more confident in ourselves – in our abilities to ask, and get – what we want, not just in sex, but in life too.