Josie Hess & Isabel Peppard direct a fascinating, inspiring look at a woman who found the life she never knew she wanted in porn.
This review is part of our coverage of the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival
When I was a kid, I once heard a dirty joke that went “How is a middle-aged woman’s [genitalia] like Australia? It’s Down Under but no one cares.” It’s a gross joke with a kernel of miserable truth to it — while there is no real expiration date for male attractiveness, women are considered at their most desirable between the ages of 18 and 25, with ever diminishing returns from that point on. Once you reach your mid to late forties, forget it — women are expected to swap out cute little dresses and miniskirts for sensible pantsuits, and any openly stated sexual desire is ignored, if not treated with repulsion. We’re not supposed to want sex, even though, biologically speaking, women in their 40s are likely to be more sexually confident and experienced than their younger counterparts.
Morgana Muses, the subject of Josie Hess and Isabel Peppard’s documentary Morgana, is a study in breaking the rules. Breaking into the porn industry at 47, she’s plus sized, and with the pleasant-but-unremarkable face and personality of a book club moderator, a most unlikely candidate for such an abrupt mid-life change. Despondent after leaving a loveless, mostly sexless marriage, which turned her into a “social pariah” in her small Australian town, Morgana planned to spend an evening with a male escort before committing suicide. She found the experience with the escort, who showed her simple tenderness and affection, so moving that it compelled her to put aside thoughts of suicide and pursue a life of pleasure, while learning to accept and love herself.
Morgana found a home in feminist porn, which, as opposed to porn made for men, has some artisanship to it, with real bodies and mutual satisfaction. Most importantly, the women look like they want to be there, like they’re having fun, rather than a warm body for a male actor to slam himself into. Though she has fetishes, Morgana isn’t treated like a fetish herself, pigeonholed into “MILF” or “plus-size” porn. She’s sexy, she’s bold, and she’s calling the shots, and it’s remarkably inspiring. You may not come away from watching Morgana wanting to be in porn, but suddenly producing porn doesn’t seem like such an outlandish idea.
You may not come away from watching Morgana wanting to be in porn, but suddenly producing porn doesn’t seem like such an outlandish idea.
What’s more powerful than the graphic clips of Morgana’s films are shots of Morgana enjoying sweets, allowing her body to be photographed with surgical scars on display, and her complete and utter refusal to do what society tells her she should do, despite struggling with self-esteem issues. “I really can’t look at myself in a mirror, but flick on that camera, and I don’t care,” she admits in one scene. Morgana also later discusses her nearly lifelong battle with depression, and some cynics may look at that as proof that the porn industry attracts broken people. In truth, doing porn, and being around like-minded people who are confident in what they want and in their bodies, is where she seems to be happiest. It’s beautiful and touching to see her find her people, even if it meant walking away from everything she ever knew in the first 45 years of her life.
At a brisk 70 minutes long, Morgana hits upon a number of topics that would have benefited from some additional exploration, such as Morgana’s relationship with her children, her complicated feelings about enjoying BDSM and rape fantasy while still identifying as a feminist, and the world of feminist porn in general. Morgana herself is such an engaging, likable presence that one hopes the documentary can spin off into a series of short films about her life and experiences as she continues to evolve into the person she was always meant to be.
Given the pearl-clutching reaction to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s single “WAP,” we like the idea of female sexuality in theory, but not in practice, and definitely not in our faces. Morgana dares you to look at someone that the world would normally consider invisible, not worth time, attention, or a loving, sensual touch. Perhaps most daring at all, she does not apologize for who she is, or ask for permission to exist. “I was expected to quietly and gracefully disappear,” Morgana says in one scene. “And I guess I decided I didn’t want to disappear.”