SEPTEMBER 3, 2021
USA | 6 minutes | 2018
Drama short film directed by Stephanie Cheng
Starring Levana Wang
A young girl discovers a physical sensation one day from her ballet tights.
CineAsian Films (CAF): Leotard is a film that tackles a very taboo topic. What inspired you to explore a story like this?
Stephanie Cheng: The idea for Leotard came to me while I was watching watching Giuseppe Torantore’s Malèna (2000) – in the film, the main character Renato grows up watching and spying on the enigmatic and beautiful Malèna. When he sees her walk across town for the first time, he feels a strange inkling below and tends to his desires later at night in bed, hand under the covers. It occured to me that we often see young boys come to this sexual realization, but it is rare to see females come of age with this significant part of their lives. This act piqued my curiosity: how do you visually depict a woman’s climax when there is no external factor representing the initial arousal that is so commonly seen with men on-screen?
In many cultures, it’s taboo to even address such a topic. It’s seen as vile, crass, and most of all – unnecessary. Even though it is such a ubiquitous act, it’s still publicly seen as “sinful”. Growing up in China, men are told not to masturbate because the word sperm in Chinese – 精 – means spirit, and to ejaculate sperm means to lose your spirit and vitality. I wanted to make the film because I not only wanted to creatively illustrate how a girl discovers her sexuality and comes to self-pleasure for the first time, but to also bring a conversation around masturbation within cultures.
CAF: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during production?
Cheng: I wanted the film to feel textured and raw by mirroring the topic that is both robust and vulnerable at the same time, so I decided to shoot on 16mm. It was my first time shooting on film, and it was definitely a worthwhile learning experience. My naivety shooting on film was evident, and it took a very hard first scene to figure out the flow of the process. Shooting on film forced me to be precise with my vision as we (literally) couldn’t afford many mistakes with the limitation of physical film.
CAF: What do you hope people can take away from watching this film?
Cheng: I hope people enjoy seeing something that society has forced people to hide and speak about privately in the public sphere. I hope the film aids the conversation one step forward in destigmatizing the culture around masturbation and self-pleasure, and that we promote healthier conversations and positive depictions of it.
CAF: Are you working on anything new?
Cheng: I’m currently working on a few ideas inspired by cultural phenomenons that I’ve witnessed from my time being back in Beijing. In addition, I’ve established a production company called Good Behavior with three collaborators that champions people-of-color writers and directors in the genre/genre-bending form, so we’re actively seeking out talent!
Leotard is one of the many great projects shared with CineAsian Films through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them, submit your film.
Director, Writer: Stephanie Cheng
Producer: Tony Yang
Cinematographer: Daisy Zhou
Editor: Madeline Stedman
Music by: Erick McNerney
Also featuring: Amy Chang, Tara Tan