Call My Agent gets off to a strong start. The French drama became a cult phenomenon during the pandemic. Viewers from around the world fell hard for this cutthroat crew of agents who go to absurd lengths securing roles for their clients. When they’re not massaging the egos of film stars, or manipulating celebrities into signing with them, the Agence Samuel Kerr team are struggling to maintain their own chaotic love lives. It’s set in Paris, after all. The only agent who has more luck with the ladies than the womanizing Mathias is Andréa; a workaholic who spends her scant free time making the most of life in the city of love.
Smart and resourceful, unrepentantly ambitious, Andréa Martel is a heroine for the modern age. More than once, it seems to come as a relief that the demands of her job prevent a budding relationship from surviving beyond the hook-up phase. Whatever she’s been up to the night before – partying, passionate sex, or poaching clients – Andréa is always immaculate the next day. Her blazers and designer suits call to mind an early Bette Porter, telling us everything that we need to know about Andréa: she’s all business.
Camille Cottin, who has played Andréa for four seasons, believes this adds to her magnetism: “She is so direct and doesn’t care what people think. And that’s what makes her sexy.”
Women who put their vocation first have been caricatured, sometimes viciously, for their ambition. Think of Miranda Priestly, Patty Hewes, Cruella DeVille – all are framed as unfeeling, unnatural, even unwomanly in a fundamental way for prioritising the professional over the personal. And so it was refreshing that Call My Agent chose to show a woman devoted to her work in a sympathetic light; doubly so because she’s a lesbian.
Throughout the series, Andréa describes herself as gay and states that she’s not interested in men. And while she uses the allure of her sexuality to reel in a creepy prospective client, Andrea spins him a story of fiction. Her desire for women isn’t fetishized, nor is Andrea ever treated like a token. As television still struggles to move beyond coming out stories, it was a pleasure to watch a show with a lesbian main character who is not defined by her sexuality.
“She will never be in a man’s bed – well, almost never – but she is out of their reach and out of their control, so that gives her something strong, too,” says Cottin. “Withdrawing the sexual dimension at work helps her to be seen as an equal.”
Almost. Therein lies the problem. Because, midway through the second season, the lesbian representation goes downhill. In the worst possible way.
Hicham Janowski, a friend and rival from Andréa’s youth, takes over ASK. Andréa and Hicham compete over the affections of a model. Hicham seduces her at his ten-year-old son’s birthday party (what a prince among men…) and, not willing to concede defeat, Andréa turns it into a threesome. Only, Andréa and Hicham forget all about the model and have sex with each other.
The first issue: the tired old trope that dictates any kind of antagonism between a male and female character must be the product of unresolved sexual tension. The second and more pressing issue: homophobia. Lesbians don’t have sex with men. For Call My Agent to suggest otherwise to titillate a majority-straight audience is wildly irresponsible.
I’ve lost count of how many men have told me that a night with them could ‘cure’ my desire for other women. It is one of the uglier and more coercive messages lesbians are sent by the people around us, and the media we consume; a system of social pressure that Adrienne Rich called compulsory heterosexuality.
Call My Agent used the ethos of Parisian sexual freedom to justify this storyline. But lesbians around the world are still punished for saying no to men, stigmatised for wanting other women. So, there is nothing subversive about showing a lesbian have straight sex. And seeing a powerful lesbian character like Andréa fall victim to compulsory heterosexuality is deeply demoralising.
It is still incredibly uncommon for any mainstream television show to have a lesbian protagonist. Our stories rarely get to move beyond Coming Out narratives or the Gay Best Friend. And that’s assuming we aren’t killed off because male writers and directors can’t envision any other possibility for lesbians on screen. When I first started watched Call My Agent, I was thrilled that they smashed the limitations imposed upon lesbian characters. But the writers royally screwed over lesbian viewers with this straight sex subplot.
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