by Rich Moreland, March 2018
When I was researching feminism in adult film, my intention was to provide a historical resource for the college classroom. In the spring of 2017 that became a reality at San Francisco State University.
A student from the university was introduced to my work and contacted me concerning a film project she was undertaking. The discussion was an enjoyable role reversal for me because someone else was asking the questions.
The outcome of her effort is extraordinary considering this is a student film, not the product of a professional filmmaker. For that fact alone, it is a remarkable accomplishment.
(All visuals in Parts One, Two, and Three of Eros are courtesy of Davyana San Miguel except that of Dr. Tanya Augsburg who granted me permission to use a her image.)
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The filmmaker is Davyana San Miguel and the film, Eros, is a comment on how we as a society must create a space for a woman’s take on her own sexuality and, more importantly, how she expresses it.
Early porn feminists, specifically Annie Sprinkle, a member of Club 90, the original feminist support group in the industry, and the late Marilyn Chambers, who did not openly identify as a feminist but was in control of her image, are included. For a more recent take on feminist porn, the narrative offers a moment with director Shine Louise Houston whose Pink and White Productions is a well-known studio in the queer porn genre.
Additionally, the ideas of two feminists from the heady days of second wave feminism are juxtaposed as part of Eros’s message: Andrea Dworkin’s anti-porn feminism and “the erotic is power” philosophy espoused by African-American lesbian, Audre Lorde.
By the way, the film is brief, running a bit over five minutes. But don’t let that fool you, it is smartly done with an artistic verve.
Challenging Social Stigmas
So, who is Davyana San Miguel?
“I’m a filmmaker and multimedia artist,” she says. “As of right now, I’m finishing up my bachelor’s degree in Cinema from San Francisco State with an emphasis in Experimental Filmmaking.
“I’m originally from Hawai’i and moved to California when I was seventeen, spending the first three years in Southern California and now residing in foggy San Francisco.”
Davyana explains that her filmmaking focuses on “challenging social stigmas.” To do so, she explores “open conversations about topics that may make people uncomfortable,” such as feminism and pornography.
Of course, modern artists must take care of the technical aspects of their work. In Davyana’s case, she and her “creative partner” Mehran Karimabadi operate “DSM Visuals, a production company and art collective that creates diverse and original content,” she says.
Early in her time at the university, Davyana took a humanities class, Images of Eroticism, from Dr. Tanya Augsburg, an Associate Professor of Humanities in the School of Humanities and Liberal Studies who describes herself as “a humanities-trained interdisciplinary feminist performance scholar, critic, and curator.”
I invited her to talk about her course.
First, she tells me that Images of Eroticism “is a popular upper-division general education humanities course” that has been part of the university curriculum for quite some time. Dr. Augsburg is one of several professors who have undertaken the challenge of defining the sexual and its place in our culture.
“Each instructor teaches it differently, according to their own interpretation of what ‘images of eroticism’ means as well as their own areas of expertise,” the professor points out. Though one instructor teaches the class as a porn studies offering, Dr. Augsburg’s version is not quite that.
Her approach is broader, examining a variety of erotic “representations” that focus on “art, philosophy, literature, film, and contemporary pop culture.”
To give me some specifics, Dr.Augsburg mentions that her course encompasses “erotic imagery” as it connects with “sex-positive cultural representations of women that are created by women and those who do not identify with toxic heteronormative masculinity.”
Dr. Augsburg uses a variety of sources. For example, she includes “clips from the ‘golden age of porn’ and Annie Sprinkle’s films,” on one hand, she says, and “the art of young ‘fourth wave’ and ‘sex-negative’ feminists such as Ann Hirsch and Leah Schrager,” on the other.
The professor also mentions Cheryl Dunye’s film, Mommy Is Coming.
(Note: I met Cheryl Dunye a few years back by way of Pink and White’s Jiz Lee who was impressed with what Dunye brought to the cinematic table.)
New Erotic Imagery
Although the college atmosphere often resists changes in methodology (we often teach as we were taught), Dr. Augsburg’s students are not passive receptacles of professorial pronouncements (my professorial words, not hers!).
“In Images of Eroticism I challenge students to create new erotic imagery that is consensual and that represents their own communities and/or interests. Students can take up that challenge for their final as long as they draw from the course material,” the professor explains.
Some will write “erotic short stories that draw from the course material as well as their own experiences,” she continues. “I’d like to think that Davyana also took up that challenge after the class was over in her film class.”
(Indeed she did. Eros was a project Davyana developed for her Experimental Documentary Workshop at the university.)
What impressed Dr. Augsburg was that Davyana incorporated elements from her course in her student production. Among the literary examples that stand out for the humanities professor occurs in the final frames.
“Davyana ends the film with a shout-out to yet another course text, the novel Story of O with the masked man and woman.”
And, of course, the young filmmaker boldly steps into her own production prompting high praise from Professor Augsburg.
“My class featured many examples of feminist art and performance so I was delighted to see Davyana doing her own performance art in the film,” she says.
The “Porn” Class
From Davyana’s perspective, Dr. Augsburg had a significant impact on a young woman’s educational journey.
“Images of Eroticism was one of the first classes that I took at SF State. I was intrigued by the name. My roommates at the time told me that it was known as the ‘porn’ class. Well, maybe, but it was more than that.
In fact, firsts were everywhere. Not only was the class new to Davyana, it was Dr. Augsburg’s first time teaching it and she was the first woman at the university to do so.
The experience was rewarding. Dr. Augsburg “gave the class a critical analysis and historical overview of erotic art and its effects on society from a female perspective,” Davyana says.
A couple of decades ago that would have been unthinkable and certainly not conventional when it comes to the erotic.
Incidentally, Davyana mentioned that the class read parts of my take on adult film feminism because it “represents a counter-narrative to the consequences of traditional gender roles.”
She goes on to say,
“My copy of your book is littered with post-it notes and I read the whole book after the course was over. When I studied your text and related films, the concept of feminism coexisting with pornography, no longer felt foreign.”
Cool. That is exactly its intent.
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The filmmakers of DSM visuals.
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Next we will delve a bit into Eros, the film.