In the short film Fuck You, a stolen dildo offers a way to think differently about sex, power, femininity and masculinity.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge chatted to Fuck You director Anette Sidor to learn more about this thought-provoking and timely film.
Q: Was the idea for ‘Fuck You’ a reaction to your own experiences in relationships or just wider social issues you have observed?
A: Most of my ideas come from a personal core, even though the film itself turns out to be quite removed from my own life. For me, it’s about exploring humanity and asking questions about why and how we do things. Fuck You is inspired by experiences I had as a teenager, as well as the environment I continue to see around me. As a director, I want to create images of human-beings that we rarely or maybe never get a chance to see in films.
In Fuck You, I work with femininity and masculinity. I want to portray men as sensitive and emotional humans, as well as women who are smart and driven, just like I see them in the world around me. I believe that gender norms can make us hide parts of ourselves, as well as preventing us from exploring and developing ourselves fully. Fuck You tells the story of a girl who is used to conforming to her surroundings, but feels that she can’t be herself fully so she decides to try something new. She encounters stereotypes, she is feminine but makes a “masculine” inner-journey and discovers something new about her identity and attraction to others by challenging the prevailing gender norms.
Q: Why do you feel it is important to challenge social norms and expectations through film?
A: Through film we can get the emotional experience of discovering something in ourselves that we didn’t even know existed. It can show feelings and situations from a different perspective, and make us understand our own and other’s behaviours. Film can inspire and influence people’s view of themselves, others and the world. I believe that we need opportunities to mirror ourselves and those around us in pictures to get an idea of who we are.
To me and to many others, films and music are a window for expression and reflection. I saw Show Me Love, directed by Lukas Moodysson, when I was 14 years old and I know it changed me. Soon after, I dared to understand my feelings for a girl for the first time. Music has helped me to feel the feelings I have not always had a vocabulary for. Culture is a way to discover who we are and what we want.
Q: Gender norms and expectations are very much part of the social tug-of-war we are witnessing at the moment, particularly in the US with the emergence of prominent conservative voices like Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro. What are your views on the current landscape and the nature of the debate?
A: I make films to ask questions and to explore subjects that are sometimes complex because of different perspectives. When it comes to gender norms, we learn from an early age that love, attraction and sex are expected to be in a certain way depending on if we are girls or boys. Most of the time those expectations are unconsciously attributed to others and ourselves. The young couple in Fuck You explore sexuality and challenge gender norms – they challenge conservative ideas of the sexes.
With Fuck You I want to show that what we regard as femininity and masculinity do not necessarily belong to separate gender identities. Gender norms say, among other things, that girls are expected to be passive and boys to be active. I would like to question that. In fact, the need to be various is present in many of us. In the end it is a question of justice and freedom, the freedom to be the person you feel you are and be treated just and equal.
I find most conservative viewpoints to be far from my own reality and I believe they often come from people who are afraid loosing their power. And I find the nature of the debate to be very focused on aligning with some fixated opinion, rather than being curious, asking questions and exploring. Film is an excellent way to explore – that’s my main reason for doing it.
Q: What direction would you like to see us move in and why would it be healthy?
A: I want to show the possibilities of escaping gender norms, for both boys and girls. I wish that more people would be able to see gender norms, and what they do to us humans, since they cause so much suffering and oppression for so many people. The more people that understand the problems with gender norms the easier it will be to make changes in the society, and to see the positive effect on people’s lives. Within the film industry, I wish that it would stop reproducing the same stories over and over again.
Q: You worked with young actors on the film. Were you looking for a deeper level of understanding and maturity when casting the roles?
A: I’m looking for trust and for people who have the will to explore the present with me. That’s what acting is all about for me. Most young people between the ages of 13-20 who came for audition were excited about the story of Fuck You, so we got the chance to meet a lot of amazing people. It’s obvious that younger generations are way more open-minded and respectful towards each other’s differences. They want to make a change, which made me feel very empowered while working with the film.
Before shooting we talked and shared thoughts about our own experiences within gender norms and how we see them. That’s also a way of creating a deeper understanding of the film and what it actually means in both personal and wider perspectives. It’s also important for the actors to get to know each other and to find a common ground together.
The seven actors I finally got the honour to work with stood out from the crowd and they are all totally mind blowing. I am especially impressed with the main roles, Yandeh Sallah and Martin Schaub, who went in whole-heartedly during the whole process. I’m incredibly happy and grateful that they chose to trust me and wanted to portray the film’s characters and to tell this story with me.
Q: What kind of reaction and feelings do you hope the film will provoke?
A: I hope that people find it exciting and empowering. I also want to inspire people to explore themselves and their own sexuality, and to think differently about sex, femininity, masculinity and power. I have already received many amazing reactions from the screenings in both Locarno Film festival and at Toronto international Film festival, which I visited.
One guy, who I will never forget, told me about the whole film in detail. His eyes were glowing and after awhile I couldn’t stop smiling, since he wanted to express everything he had experienced. I realised that the film made a big impact on him. I also got great reactions from the fact that sex between young people is shown in a positive way without shame and bad feelings, the fact that the characters were enjoying themselves and discovering what they like.
I also remember a middle-aged woman who was amazed by the acting skills and before she left me she said: “and the strap-on, I’m going to get one of those.” Another guy was surprised by the fact that women might also be attracted to power, he didn’t know that.
So far, I’ve got so many amazing reactions from the audience, and for me as a director it’s incredible to hear what all of these different people have experienced. I hope this film will continue to reach into people’s hearts.
Q: What is next for you? What kind of stories do you want to tell?
A: Except for travelling to festivals with Fuck You, I’m currently working on my feature film and I have a new short film that I’m writing.
Both films explore human desire within power, sexuality, identity, femininity and masculinity. I find myself circulating around these themes all the time. There are so many images missing in film that I want to create. I want to challenge myself with new stories and complex characters. Film is a way to explore human behaviour and why we act like we do. At the same time, I have the possibility to create the dream world that I want to live in. For me, film is the perfect art of being in between dreams and reality.