Why aren’t intimacy directors recognised at the BAFTAs?

They do important work (Picture: Getty)

‘Thank you for your existence in our industry, for making the space safe. For creating physical, emotional and professional boundaries, so that we can make work about exploitation, loss of respect, about abuse of power, without being exploited or abused in the process.’

Those were the words of Michaela Coel, when she won big at the British Film and Television Awards for her hit drama, I May Destroy You, in 2021.

Inspired by her own sexual assault, she dedicated her award to her intimacy coordinator, Ita O’Brien, for enabling her to explore abuse and intimacy on screen, in an environment where she felt supported.

That’s the job of an intimacy coordinator or intimacy director. They’re a member of film or television crew who ensures the wellbeing of the actors and actresses who participate in sex or intimate scenes.

Some are involved in a project from the very start, helping to shape scripts and stage directions with emotional safety in mind.

Michaela’s speech was heartfelt, but it was also telling: she had to namecheck Ita, because there was no category for her to receive her own award.

And two years later, intimacy directors still aren’t recognised at the Baftas.

Why? We don’t know either. And it’s exactly why globally renowned director and ‘new porn’ pioneer Erika Lust is calling for Bafts and Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to introduce a new category: Best Intimacy Coach in a Motion Picture.

The 73rd Emmy Awards

Michaela Coel from ‘I May Destroy You’ appears at the 73RD EMMY AWARDS (Picture: Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images)

In almost every movie we watch there is some sort of intimate scene between the actors.

But whether it’s a steamy kiss to full frontal nudity between the sheets, there needs to be someone there to guide them through it, to monitor what happens.

Erika says porn ‘is a dirty word for many’ but she thinks Hollywood (and British TV) would learn a thing or two from the ethical standards she insists upon on her sets.

‘From its earliest day, the mainstream film industry has been tainted and shaped by male-dominated exploitation,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.

‘That includes everything from the notorious casting couch to improper conduct by actors and directors towards cast members, forcing them to perform scenes they had not consented to.’

There are Baftas and Oscars for costume design, interior decoration and hair and make-up, so as Erika asks, why not intimacy coaches?

‘An award category would be a powerful and timely statement by the respective Academies,’ she adds.

‘The MeToo movement has seen women strike back and intimacy coaches are a key step in ensuring directors and actors convey sex, sexual pleasure and nudity with consent, care and free of exploitation.’

Unfortunately, Erika says that in the film industry, adult film industry and modelling industry, there will always be some ‘serious and considerate players’ who don’t value the work of intimacy coordinators.

‘We’ve heard many stories in the industry of actors feeling pushed into doing things they didn’t want to do. Being told that the scene was going to be showing no breasts or butts and then in the end it does and they have no one to talk to about it,’ she says.

‘Directors always want the best possible film they can get and I think that when you have an intimacy coordinator on set, it’s so much easier to know that there is another person looking out for the performers.

‘Even if you are a very ethical person and are mindful and considerate with other people, situations can arise where you need to back off and where the performers need to have an advocate for them.’

Erika Lust is pushing for a BAFTA to recognise intimacy coordinators

Erika Lust is pushing for a BAFTA to recognise intimacy coordinators (Picture: Monica Figueras)

Erika’s work involves directing and shooting explicit scenes where the actors are actually having sex and her intimacy coordinator is involved from start to finish.

She says getting it right is all in the preparation and communication.

‘It’s [about] having everybody understanding that this is an open space where we are fully aware that consent is given by anyone but can also be taken away at any point during the shooting,’ she says.

Erika talks to her actors weeks before shooting, walking them through the script, explaining how it will be shot and who will be cast.

‘It’s very important for me to understand who they [the actors] are,’ she says. ‘What they do like? What don’t they like? Do they have any boundaries or people they would like to work with? Do they have people that they do not want to work with?’

She also says her actors get their bill of rights ‘so they can feel empowered that we are taking care of all aspects and they’re being listened to’.

There is paperwork for them to fill in in case they feel stressed or triggered by anything that could comes up. They write how they would like the team to react, and what would help them in such a situation.

Erika stresses: ‘If something happens during filming we stop filming. That’s the first rule.’

There’s even an anonymous questionnaire actors can fill in afterwards if anything occurs to them post-filming that they aren’t fully comfortable with.

In short: there’s a lot of work and care that goes into making sure someone feels comfortable on set, whether it’s mainstream or adult entertainment.

Isn’t it about time these behind the scenes angels were recognised for their work?

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