The Olivia Experiment is a comedy about a woman who is a virgin. All the characters seem to agree that this is what’s holding Olivia back, so as an experiment she prepares to have sex with a friend, and document it all on film.
As an example of asexual representation, I have mixed feelings about this movie. The endless pressure to have sex is a theme that will resonate with many here (if you can stomach dealing with this theme in a comedic fashion). And asexuality is mentioned many times as a serious possibility. In fact, part of the motivation for the experiment is that Olivia wants to figure herself out, whatever orientation she may be.
But there’s this one scene which has problems. In the opening scene, Olivia goes to an asexual group in Berkeley. That’s funny because I’m part of the real-life Berkeley meetup group, so it’s like a fictional version of myself! The only thing is, the fictional group is clearly a support group, and they clearly use a more exclusive definition of asexuality.
At the end of the meeting, the group leader confronts Olivia and tells her that she might not fit in the group. Some people use asexuality as a way to hide, she says. The rationale was also entirely unclear to me–was it that Olivia hadn’t tried sex yet? So what? That leader really pissed me off! Who does she think she is, telling people that they don’t belong?
My interpretation is that the fictional support group is just really screwed up. But I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be such an unsympathetic portrayal. I think the screenwriter simply didn’t know about asexual elitism, or how unacceptable it is in ace communities. The writer was unaware that ace communities generally try to be safe spaces for asexuality AND safe spaces for uncertainty and exploration. And how could the writer know, without, you know, doing a bit of research?
This is interesting because now we have two whole examples of fictional representation of asexual groups. We can practically do some statistical analysis!
The other example comes from Shortland Street (see part 1, 2, and 3). Upon encouragement from a friend, Gerald tries meeting with an asexual society. The society is portrayed more true to life, in that it’s a casual social group. However, despite it allegedly being casual, most of what they do on-screen is try to help Gerald come to terms with his identity.
The problem with the group (spoiler alert) is that Gerald gets along a little too well with the leader. The leader’s girlfriend gets jealous and tells Gerald to stay away. I thought this plot was cute; it seemed like the writer wanted to humanize the asexual group. Asexuals are the same: they have jealousy and drama like the rest of us! Although in my experience, ace meetups aren’t exactly breeding grounds for romantic drama, since there are relatively few possible pairings.
A common thread between Shortland Street and The Olivia Experiment is that it’s practically a foregone conclusion that things won’t work out with the asexual group. One asexual character is already enough for non-asexual audiences. Bringing in a whole community of asexual characters? Well, as long as they don’t stay on screen for very long.
I am not sure I want asexual groups to be portrayed at length, or with perfect accuracy. I mean, take classrooms. When I go to a movie, I don’t want to see an accurately portrayed classroom, because that would be boring. So classrooms are basically never portrayed accurately (and The Olivia Experiment provides an example of this too). Likewise, I’m not sure I really want to see a realistic asexual group, where people play Cards Against Humanity and talk about the internet.
So I think I’m okay with asexual groups being portrayed as support groups, or as big sources of relationships. However, I’d really like if they were a more inclusive. I worry about people seeing The Olivia Experiment and concluding that they would never fit within the asexual spectrum.
How would you like ace groups to be portrayed?
The Olivia Experiment is not publicly available at this time, but it may be in the future. See the website for up to date information on the film.