Until 2012, the directing duo known as the Wachowski brothers was known primarily for ambitious filmmaking and a wacky, over-the-top style. While the two were most celebrated for creating the “Matrix” trilogy, they went on to direct polarizing but popular films like “V For Vendetta,” “Cloud Atlas” and “Jupiter Ascending.”
Then, suddenly, something changed, and while their filmmaking style remained the same, the Wachowski brothers were no more.
Lana Wachowski announced in 2012 that she is a transgender woman and had been slowly transitioning since 2000. In 2016, her sister Lilly made a similar announcement — she too was a woman, and the world needed to accept the Wachowskis as the sisters they had always truly been.
It’s silly to examine the Wachowskis’ extensive filmography for signs of these changes, but their most recent project seems to reflect the freedom that both women now feel in their personal and professional lives.
The Wachowskis’ Netflix series “Sense8” is an inclusive, joyful and often confounding look at eight different people from all walks of life who are thrust together under supernatural circumstances. When it premiered in 2015, most headlines referred to the highly sexual nature of the show, as critics and audiences alike seemed scandalized by various group-sex scenes.
Sexuality has become synonymous with “prestige” television these days, and shows from “Game of Thrones” to “True Blood” build viewerships based partly on the fact that people want sex in their television. While “Sense8” has a lot of graphic scenes, the reason it was so surprising to audiences is that it’s not the kind of sexual content people are used to seeing on-screen.
Part of the reason “Sense8” was so shocking is because of the kinds of people engaging in sexual activity. In the first episode alone, a transgender main character attends an LGBT Pride Parade and has sex with her black lesbian girlfriend. For the record, “Sense8” is one of few shows that feature a transgender character played by a transgender actor or actress. Later in the season, a gay Latino man enters into a three-way relationship with his boyfriend and their Latina girlfriend.
“Sense8” is based on the idea that the eight main characters are linked mentally and spiritually, and this link can transcend place and even time. This lets the Wachowskis, in their notoriously sex-positive way, sprinkle in a number of orgy scenes among the “sensates,” as they’re called.
Remember when everyone was so scandalized by the brothel scene in “Westworld” last year? Amateurs.
While the group scenes are certainly gratuitous at times, they allow the Wachowskis to demonstrate just how fluid sexuality can be. Three of the main male characters are positioned as straight in the beginning of the series, but most of them are coded as bisexual as the series goes on.
All of this sexual expression is treated as no big deal by the series, which is a refreshing change. “Sense8” is celebratory about sex in a way few other shows dare to be, while still presenting it as part of the human experience. The biggest difference is that “Sense8” presents joyful, loving relationships between many kinds of people — transgender women, gay men and racial minorities alike.
While it may just be a coincidence that the wacky world of “Sense8” coincided with the final coming out of the Wachowski sisters, it seems like the series is a reflection of their newfound freedom.
That said, Lilly Wachowski is taking a break from season two of “Sense8,” reportedly intending to focus on her own well-being for awhile. Considering her public transition just last year, this isn’t surprising, but it does mark the first time the sisters have split professionally throughout their entire career. Odds are good that she’ll return for season three, but only if the show is renewed by Netflix.
If Netflix knows what’s good for it, it won’t dare cancel “Sense8.” Compared to the sexual violence against women seen on networks like HBO and Starz, the healthy, inclusive relationships of “Sense8” are a credit to Netflix, and so are the sisters who created them.
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