"How movies brought polyamory into the mainstream"
That's the title of a Guardian article appearing as Professor Marston and the Wonder Women plays in the UK and elsewhere overseas, after doing terribly at the box office in the US.
It's a catchy title, but the article doesn't live up to it. General-audience movies practically never portrayed modern polyamory pre-Marston; as genuine, serious romances and partnerships worthy of an audience's respect. Even those that come within striking distance (starting with Design for Living in 1933) have generally played multi-relationships for laughs — a novelty gimmick — usually with an unhappy ending, sometimes involving gunshots.
Instead, credit 30 years of word-spreading, seed-planting, and activism by countless inspired polyfolks going back at least to Ryam Nearing, Deborah Anapol, Morning Glory and Oberon Zell, Robert H. Rimmer and many others great and small, in growing numbers. I'm looking at you, dear readers. Thank You.
How movies brought polyamory into the mainstream
Non-monogamous relationships used to be portrayed as disastrous in film. But with Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, is there a shift towards greater acceptance?
By Anna Smith
...[Marston] may be the most positive depiction of polyamory – the state of being in love with more than one person – in mainstream film to date. ... It is an accessible, occasionally moving film that treats the three-way relationship much like a typical movie coupling. This makes it decidedly atypical in the history of cinema.
Think of movie threesomes and you might picture Denise Richards, Matt Dillon and Neve Campbell writhing around in a swimming pool in Wild Things. ... In comedies, they are played for laughs: Russell Brand, Jonah Hill and Elisabeth Moss had a clumsy romp in Get Him to the Greek, which also served a common dramatic purpose: to reinforce the relationship between a heterosexual couple, rather than enhance it. As Meg-John Barker, author of Rewriting the Rules, a guide to the changing nature of modern relationships, puts it: “A person being in love with two people at once is a staple of much drama, from romcoms and soap operas to advice columns and tabloid news headlines. Almost always, they are forced to choose one person and to let go of the other.”
...There are, of course, other films that have taken a less judgmental approach to polyamory. The buoyant British comedy-drama Rita, Sue and Bob Too saw two teenaged girls on a council estate sharing the same man.... Henry & June documented Henry and June Miller’s relationship with Anaïs Nin. The Dreamers, starring Eva Green, Michael Pitt and Louis Garrel, was an arty erotic drama about a love triangle, but a troubled and incestuous one. The 1994 comedy-drama Threesome with Lara Flynn Boyle, Josh Charles and Stephen Baldwin was inspired by director Andrew Fleming’s own experiences. Oliver Stone’s Savages, which cast Blake Lively as the girlfriend of pot dealers Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, may have shown the three living together in bliss, but things ended badly — as they have done in everything from the 1962 film Jules et Jim to the recent erotic French film Love.
“Sometimes open relationships are represented but they end in tragedy or difficulty, like in The Ice Storm or Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” says Barker. “There are a few more positive depictions of open non-monogamy in films like Shortbus, Kinsey, Summer Lovers, or – kind of – Her.”
The 2006 film Shortbus was certainly one of the more cheerfully liberal depictions of polyamory in film; colourfully detailing a group of New Yorkers exploring multiple partners through sex salons. But, just as many films aimed more specifically at the gay market have been, it was a niche arthouse movie, preaching to the converted. Professor Marston plays it straight enough to reach a more conservative crowd, indicating that polyamory might be going more mainstream. And the chances are the subject will crop up again in Chanya Button’s upcoming Vita & Virginia, the story of Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki), and aristocrat Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton), who had an open relationship with her husband, Harold Nicolson.
Experts feel this may represent a real-life shift towards greater acceptance. “Things are changing slowly,” says Barker. “When I started studying this area 15 years ago, virtually all the reporting around polyamory was sensationalist and negative, saying it could never work, or it was ‘taking all the fun out of affairs’. Now we have a wealth of research on just how common polyamory is (about 5% of people in the US are openly non-monogamous), and about how positive polyamorous families can be for children.” ...
The whole article (November 16, 2017).
Barker has posted their whole email interview with the writer (Nov. 17). Barker is on the road this fall to promote their newest book, How to Understand your Gender (co-authored with Alex Iantaffi).