Emma Stone, the lead star of the Oscar-nominated film Poor Things, has responded to accusations that the film is “sexist” and “exploitative”, and that its sex scenes present “troubling” consent issues.
The actor, 35, has been nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the Yorgos Lanthimos film as Bella, a young woman in Victorian London, who is resurrected by a scientist (Willem Dafoe) following her suicide.
In the movie, Bella, who has the brain of an unborn baby put inside her head, goes on a journey of sexual discovery, delighting in her adult body and experiencing her first orgasm.
The film’s themes have led to backlash, with some claiming that the fact it has a male director, and therefore a male gaze, makes it sexist. There have also been accusations that the nudity is exploitative and that, because Bella has the brain of a child, there are consent issues at play.
“If it helps, as the person who played it and produced it, I didn’t see her as a child in any of those scenes,” Stone told The Times when these criticisms were raised.
“But even that’s too literal,” Lanthimos added. “If you take a film that literally, where you start discussing it in terms of the brain of a child, then you’re kind of missing the point of storytelling in general. If you start to analyse the film as something that would actually happen, then of course the film doesn’t work.”
Stone said that criticising Poor Things is the result of how people consume films these days and cast judgment on social media. “My mom has this saying that at the start of a relationship you say, ‘Oh we’re so in love we finish each other’s sentences,’” she said. “And then, as time goes by, it becomes, ‘You’re always interrupting me.’ That can happen in a relationship with film, too, especially a film like this, that’s asking more questions than giving answers.”
She continued: “I know people who’ve seen the film and think it’s just the sweetest romantic comedy, and others who had to watch it through their fingers. And that’s great.”
In a four-star review for The Independent, Clarisse Loughrey praised Stone’s “bold” performance, but wrote: “Parts of the film are uncomfortably voyeuristic. For example, Lanthimos takes a fetishistic pleasure in showing Bella servicing her various elderly, hirsute and foul-smelling clients after she starts working at a brothel in Paris.
“For all the ironic humour with which these scenes are handled, she is still the object of the often very lecherous male gaze.”