You May Not Want To Read The Erotic Book That Inspired Starz’ Little Birds

Photo: Courtesy of Starz.
Starz is no stranger to the romance and erotic genre. They are, after all, the network that brought us The Girlfriend Experience, P-Valley, and the sexy juggernaut that is Outlander. Starz' new series, Little Birds, is based on Anaïs Nin's book of erotic short stories. The series is more of a loose adaptation (no, that's not a double entendre) though, which is good, because the book Little Birds definitely could not — and should not — be adapted in full.
The stories compiled for Little Birds were written in the 1940s when Nin was working with a group of writers who lived together and published short pieces of erotica for cash. "I became what I shall call the Madame of an unusual house of literary prostitution," Nin explains in the intro. "These are my adventures in that world of prostitution. To bring them into the light was at first difficult. The sexual life is usually enveloped in many layers, for all of us — poets, writers, artists. It is a veiled woman, half-dreamed."
The collection was finally published, posthumously, in 1979. It's considered one of Nin's minor works, however. The author and poet is more known for this book's companion piece Delta of Venus, as well as the novels A House of Incest, Cities of the Interior, and her own diaries and biographical works like Henry and June.
You won't find the characters played by Juno Temple and Hugh Skinner in the original stories. Starz' Little Birds features a more or less original plot from creator and artist Sophia Al-Maria. But you will find some of the themes, motifs, and sexual fantasies that Nin explores in her series of short fiction — and some of the characters that appear throughout do flirt with Nin's creations as well.
There are thirteen stories in total that range in length. If you're inspired to read Little Birds for the first time, note as a lighthearted warning that many of the short stories end abruptly. As a more serious warning, many of them contain outdated, racist, and colonialist cultural descriptions. There are stories in the book about pedophilia, cuckolding, voyeurism, and a variety of sensual and sexual experiences that aren't limited to the boundaries of heteronormativity. Why, then, was this book adapted for a series in 2021?
What makes Little Birds relevant today is that the stories feature sex-positive female characters, no matter the situation. They also discuss the concept of the objectifying "male gaze" far before film theorist Laura Mulvey coined the phrase in 1973, given that the stories were written decades before publication. "...To put it within a cast of characters who each have something to say about that gaze was a major thing for me," Al-Maria told the New York Times in a recent interview.
So that appears to be what the Starz series has locked into for its loose adaptation. It's less about faithfully recreating the book, and more about running through the door that Nin opened long ago.

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