Sam Levinson’s The Idol Is Exactly Why Men Shouldn’t Create Female Characters

Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault and domestic abuse in a way that may be distressing to some readers. 
Just when I was starting to put Sam Levinson out of sight, out of mind after the disturbing and horrifying events of Euphoria's season 2, The Idol has been announced, and the show and its actors are already receiving a lot of noise and criticism.
Based on everything I know so far, it's safe to say that I'll be boycotting this new series, like a lot of others like it. It's not just because it's been likened to torture porn, but because, more broadly, I'm just so sick of men creating unrealistic female characters on TV.
The Idol will follow protagonist Jocelyn (played by Lily-Rose Depp), a female pop star whose recent nervous breakdown has hurt her career and who is now on a mission to become the sexiest, greatest musician in America. The central relationship in the series is that of Jocelyn and Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye's character, Tedros Tedros, a self-help guru and cult leader who from what we can already gather, is possessive, controlling and has some pretty messed up ideas about women and sex.
The fact that The Idol originally had a female director who Levinson unceremoniously replaced also just feels like pouring gallons of salt on the wound. According to a Rolling Stone article that looked into the original director Amy Seimetz's departure from the series, Seimetz had been "set up to fail" from the start. And to really seal the deal, Tesfaye had even complained that the show was focusing too much on "the female perspective". Given that The Idol is quite literally about Jocelyn and her story, it seems both ludicrous and incongruous that there could be "too much" of a female perspective, coming from the show's director.
Levinson's arrival to the set unsurprisingly meant more graphic nudity, as well as substantial recasting and a very different storyline, which, as reported by Dazed magazine, some members of the crew have allegedly claimed is essentially “sexual torture porn” and the “rape fantasy of a toxic man”. And what's the bet this was not what Seimetz had in mind?
Seimetz leaving the director's post and Levinson stepping in is a direct reflection of how Hollywood has been prioritising telling women's stories lately. It's the same way the women of Euphoria and House Of The Dragon were created — by letting men write and direct these stories, they've been allowed to glorify female characters' abusers and depict sexual trauma in gratuitous detail, then go ahead and call it "art".
It's been well documented that many of the women in Euphoria, including Sydney Sweeney and Chloe Cherry, had to push back on Levinson's direction when it came to the portrayal of female characters, particularly regarding nudity. Sweeney even made a statement in which she said she had to tell Levinson she felt some of her character's nude scenes were quite simply "unnecessary". And here lies one of the major issues with men writing female characters: just how much unnecessary sexualisation and violence they love to put in their stories.
Of course, this then raises the question, is any of it ever necessary? There are certainly plenty of nuanced and arguably more powerful ways to convey female sexuality without being explicit. Not to mention that almost every woman will have had some kind of experience with sexual trauma or harassment, so it's pretty indulgent to think we'd want to relive any of that on the screen. But, given his latest work with The Idol, it doesn't seem like Levinson is interested in alternatives to female storytelling.
Broadly speaking, there are two main dangers that I can see when it comes to any man writing a female character, not just when it comes to Levinson. Fictitious women will always be unrealistic to some degree, so it will either create unbearably high standards for women when it comes to sex and relationships with men, or give male audiences the idea that it's actually okay to treat or think about women in incredibly toxic ways. And I'm not interested in perpetuating either.
Far less insidious, yet still disheartening, is our idolisation of male characters that are actually created by women. When Queen Charlotte's Corey Mylchreest declared, "I cannot breathe when you are not near, I love you Charlotte. My heart calls your name," every woman watching clutched her fluttering heart. What followed was an online torrent of obsession about the kind of man who would say these things, but also a corresponding lament that not many men like this exist. Because the real problem is not that we can't find these men, but that he is a product of Shonda Rhimes' imagination. And despite Mylchreest's convincing delivery, we didn't fall for a portrayal of a real man — we fell for a woman's depiction of one.
While women are rather innocently out here trying to write the ideal man who loves them to the heavens and back, men are writing women who they can be aggressive towards and have abusive sex with. It seems that we're all creating these delusory versions of each other, writing them into existence, and then suffering the consequences of spreading these unrealistic gendered portrayals throughout pop culture. But the real-life consequences of men's representations can create legitimate danger. Somehow we've let these male-written stories of female sexual trauma and depictions of possessive, abusive men become the hallmarks of popular indie filmmaking. And I'm fucking over it.
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual violence and is in need of support, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Service.
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