By now most of you probably know Desiree Akhavan for her role as Chandra, Hannah Horvath’s classmate in Girls. A smaller number of you might know her for The Slope, her web series about ‘superficial, homophobic lesbians’ living in Brooklyn. But all of you are going to know her for her new film Appropriate Behaviour which Desiree wrote, directed and acted in.
In the film, which is excellent, Desiree stars as Shirin, the bisexual daughter of Iranian American parents who, after a bad break up with her girlfriend, finds herself at a loss of what to do next. ‘I had recently come out to my Iranian family, I had gone through a break-up that was really bad, so it was with those themes in mind we were like what if we created this character that was the best and worst of myself?' Desiree tells us when I asked her how the film came about. ‘A character like me, but more entitled, a little more bratty, like a stereotype of who you find in Brooklyn today. Hey, just because I happen to be a bisexual Iranian, I’m just as entitled as any other white asshole in that area.’
Desiree identifies as bisexual in real life and in Appropriate Behaviour she’s created a film where her character’s sexuality is just what it is, rather than being tokenistic. ‘It’s really important for me to represent it nonchalantly,’ says Desiree when we asked her about it. ‘Without that self-consciousness that films which focus on about marginalised communities get.’
One thing this has meant is that Desiree’s turned into the go-to point of contact for all things bisexual. ‘Ha yeah I’ve become a spokesperson for it. I don’t mind because I’m really excited to have that conversation but some people’s thoughts about it fascinates me.’ Like what? ‘Like, last night, someone that I really respect was like “You have so many choices , you can have any woman or man in the world, how do you choose?” And I was like, it’s not any man or woman it’s who I’m attracted to!’
Because for whatever reason there’s still a societal stigma attached to bisexuality. Whether it's because it prevents people from fitting neatly into the 'gay' or 'straight' box or whether it’s that lazy concept that it's ‘greedy’, bisexuality is often met with suspicion. ‘Like, who wants to call themselves a bisexual?’ Says Desiree. ‘I think many people live their lives as bisexual but don’t identify that way. It’s like Cynthia Nixon. She was happily partnered with a man and now she’s married with to a woman but she doesn’t call herself bisexual because of the stigma involved. It just sounds really tacky.’ So is there another word we should look to use instead? ‘No! There is no other term that is technically accurate. It’s just bisexuality. It needs to be reclaimed!’
Desiree’s Appropriate Behaviour character Shirin is eminently relatable to anyone of a certain age. She's lost career-wise, drinks, takes drugs, has internet fuelled hook-ups and lives in a flat-share that pre-recession young people would be horrified by. Nevertheless, despite being an entirely recognisable character to any of us, it’s an onscreen personality that many still aren’t ready to see in young women. ‘One time I read a really funny IMDB review that was so absurd. It was like “I hated this movie, Shirin has no talent, all she does is drink and have sex and do drugs but she doesn’t even play an instrument or enjoy art” like as if I’d made Shirin go to a museum it would have been like “Ah, what an intellectual.”’
Why does Desiree think it's specifically flawed females that audiences have a problem with? ‘Over the years in films we’ve had so many men be flawed, multi-dimensional characters who can be mature in some venues and fall apart in others and the women are just there rolling their eyes and supporting them. But when I look around at the films that are coming out now by female directors we’re seeing women characters go through a stunted adolescence where they’re able to fuck up just as much as any dude would. I hear about this “new wave” of slacker female films and I think it’s just women getting the opportunity to tell stories. I’m not ashamed to talk openly about my flaws like what, only Woody Allen gets to do that?’
Desiree is constantly being touted as 'The Next Lena Dunham' and sure, while there are similarities (and obviously she's now *starred *in *Girls) *to me it's another example of how there's not enough representation of normal young women on screen. ‘The way people write about it is fucked up. When I am constantly being met with comparisons to the other women who write honestly about themselves it makes me wonder how we package and sell things to people. Like the film and TV industry feel we’re making progress as long as we sell it as the 'next Lena Dunham' or cloak it as something that was successful before? I find that inherently sexist.’
For all intents and purposes though there is definitely a lot of exciting stuff going on for women in film at the moment. From last year’s Obvious Child to this year’s The Falling; women, and female directors making films specifically about women are finally getting the mainstream traction they deserve. ‘I definitely do believe that things are moving in a positive direction.' Says Desiree, 'And, a lot of money is being made off very funny women which is important. There are so many female comedic voices that are honest and raw’. Here’s hoping they’ll get to be heard.
Appropriate Behaviour is released in cinemas on 6th March by Peccadillo Pictures
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.