There was no shortage of grand, affecting moments that, when we look back, will define the year in cinema: the “No Man’s Land” sequence in Wonder Woman, Katherine Graham’s decision to publish in The Post, the action set pieces in Dunkirk, the Sunken Place in Get Out, Laurie Metcalf driving back to the airport terminal in Lady Bird, the Disney World sequence of The Florida Project.
But perhaps no two moments meant more to both the year in film, the industry’s future, and culture as a whole than the two times movie characters had sex with fruit.
It’s always tempting at the end of the year to write about sex scenes. It’s salacious and fun, but there’s also a lot to parse from what they say about culture at the time. There was a lot of sex in cinema this year, most of it rather unmemorable. Almost perfunctory even.
Thank god for that grapefruit and that peach.
Much has already been written about the respective scenes in Girls Trip and Call Me By Your Name. We’ve made countless jokes about them in print, on Twitter, with friends. But reflecting back on the year, we’re kind of struck by how these two moments, so easy to laugh at or exploitatively take out of context, might be the most meaningful and defining of the year in film.
Girls Trip is the kind of huge, relentless, raunchy comedy that nearly breaks the needle on a laughter seismograph. But when Tiffany Haddish, playing the untethered sledgehammer of joy, Dina, vigorously demonstrates a sex tip—incorporating a sliced grapefruit into the act of fellatio—the belly-quaking laughter measures off the Richter scale.
It’s a real—if unconventional—sex tip, passed around in a viral video from sexpert Auntie Angel before Dina teaches it to her shocked, pearl-clutching friends over breakfast in Girls Trip. The scene is wild, so no wonder it’s the one most people couldn’t stop talking about after seeing the film. But it’s also here that Haddish’s transcendent, star-making performance and the impact it has made most clearly—and loudly—presents itself.
Her Dina is an unfiltered, unbridled poet of vulgarity, incapable of living a false moment. Her emotions exist in constant extremity, whether she’s humping a statue in the New Orleans French Quarter or lending an empathetic shoulder for a friend to cry on. Whether it’s her wanton lack of inhibitions or her boundless compassion, she’s constantly proving she’s a woman not to be underestimated. She’s a 38-year-old black woman on a movie screen living every moment of her life with no apologies.
It’s freeing to see, and for the scores of women who turned Girls Trip into a blockbuster smash at the box office, important to be seen. When The Daily Beast spoke with Haddish, she talked about the women, especially black women over 30, who thanked her for creating a character that reminded them that they don’t have time to be afraid, or to conform to a societal expectation of how they should act. They felt permission to be loud and courageous and joyful and sexual.
There’s a matter-of-factness when Dina mimes oral sex with the grapefruit, like it’s no big deal, like why would anyone feel bashful about spicing up their sex lives and pleasure any way possible? As we laughed along, maybe some hang-ups were expelled, too.
Then there’s the peach scene in Call Me By Your Name.
The film is based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel, which centers around a teenage boy summering in Italy and the relationship he sparks with a grad student who moves in with his family. It features an infamous graphic passage in which, once the young narrator, Elio, and the object of his affection, Oliver, are finally in the throes of passion, a horny Elio on a lazy day experimentally masturbates with—and into—a peach.
It’s a surprisingly meaningful scene that ends up clarifying the dynamics and intimacy of their relationship, especially when Oliver, discovering what Elio has done, stares into Elio’s eyes and eats the desecrated peach.
That means for 10 years, fans of the book wondered if—or how—the scene could possibly be translated into film. It’s there in Luca Guadagnino’s movie, which stars Timothée Chalamet as Elio and Armie Hammer as Oliver, though slightly altered: Oliver tortures Elio with the notion of eating the peach, but in the end, doesn’t.
The scene is as important, arguably more, as the first time Oliver and Elio have sex, initiating the “call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine” exchange of dialogue that signals the desired intensity of their relationship: more than lovers, but one with each other.
The story takes place in the ’80s—earlier in the film than in the novel—so there are undercurrents of shame, fear, and regret pulsing beneath the sex and also their sexuality, something that is compounded by the hormonal confusion of being a teenager; after the peach incident, Elio weeps. Eating the peach, even though Oliver doesn’t do it in the film, is symbolic: “Whatever happens between us, Elio, I just want you know,” Oliver tells him.
For all the cheekiness with which the peach scene has been discussed since Call Me By Your Name first started screening at Sundance—the film’s official hashtag automatically populates a peach emoji—it’s the catalyst for one of the most intimate and resonant coming-of-age love stories featuring two men that has been put on film, at least a film receiving this much awards and press attention.
In a similar way to the Girls Trip grapefruit sequence, the actual act might be more outlandish than what most audience members have done themselves. But what the act represents has made many gay men “feel seen.”
Pulling back a bit, these scenes and these films are also important because of how they galvanized the industry and audiences, and tapped into vital conversations about visibility and inclusion.
As we head into the final stretch of an interminable awards season, we’re still wringing our hands over the possibility of another year in which no actors of color are nominated for an Oscar. (Though Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya, Mudbound’s Mary J. Blige, and Downsizing’s Hong Chau are doing their damnedest to keep that from happening.)
Even when stories spotlighting the experience of people of color seem like shoo-ins for awards consideration, like Girls Trip and Haddish’s performance were at the Golden Globes, they are snubbed. It led Haddish’s Girls Trip co-star Jada Pinkett Smith to allege that the Globes never bothered to seriously consider their film, saying, “Hollywood has systems in place that must learn to expand its concepts of race, gender equality and inclusion in regards to its perceptions of art across the board.”
Making great strides in that regard is the mammoth success of Girls Trip. That it’s the highest-grossing live-action comedy of the year and stars women—black women, all on the cusp of or over the age of 40—means something. That there’s been such a groundswell of support for a long-shot awards nomination for Haddish means something. That it’s a film that can continue to chip away at the tired, perpetually misguided industry myth that black women can’t open a movie at the box office means something.
Similarly, the impassioned reaction to Call Me By Your Name, which has exploded out of any sort of LGBT-film ghetto that stories like these are typically relegated to, is energizing at a time when narratives featuring LGBT leads are still so despicably rare. Any awards attention it gets is in its own way a political and cultural statement, just as Moonlight’s victory was last year.
Both are normalizing films—Girls Trip normalizes black female friendship, Call Me By Your Name a love story between two men—and they do it without erasing sexuality.
Sex is important! Especially when we’re talking about narratives that spotlight marginalized groups, it’s typically the last taboo. To ceremonially demonstrate progress, mainstream movies might feature these characters, but they’re sure as hell not going to let them be frank about sex. That they finally are is a major step forward. (Though certainly not a proclamation of our arrival at full acceptance.)
There were, of course, other phenomenal pieces of art released this year that spoke these very conversations: Get Out, Mudbound, God’s Own Country, and BPM among them. But there was something unique about the way these two films, through the entry point of the headlines made with those fruit sex scenes, pierced the cultural moment.
Did grapefruit-fellatio and peach-masturbation just change cinema as we know it? Maybe not. But I’m hard-pressed to think of scenes this year that have made this much of an impact.