Yes, God, Yes – when your devotion conflicts with your emotions, a story of teenage discovery
Following a premiere at SXSW in 2019, YES, GOD, YEShas gone on to receive critical acclaim, and awards. In the Midwest in the early 00s, sixteen-yes-old Alice (Natalia Dyer) has always been a good Catholic girl. But when an AOL chat turns racy, she discovers masturbation and becomes guilt-ridden. Seeking redemption, she attends a mysterious religious retreat to try and suppress her urges, but it isn’t easy, especially after a cute boy (Wolfgang Novogratz) starts flirting with her. Alice’s sense of shame is spiraling when she uncovers a shocking truth about the retreat’s most devout. Desperate and confused, she flees and meets an unlikely lesbian ally (Susan Blackwell) who offers an alternative view of what it means to be good. For the first time, Alice realizes she can decide for herself what to believe and finally get the release she needs (pun intended). Light-hearted humout throughout is what everyone needs this year.
YES, GOD, YES is based on my own adolescence. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school in Iowa for thirteen years, and I’ve always wanted to convey what a strange and bewildering experience it was, especially for a teenage girl. “Sex ed” at my school consisted of explicit images of STDs, a lecture from Pam Stenzel (the famed abstinence-only motivational speaker), and a video presentation of a very graphic late-term, partial birth abortion in a class called “Christian Lifestyles”. It’s an image that will forever be burned into my memory.
Of course we were shown diagrams of our reproductive organs, but it’s hard for a young girl to see an illustration that looks like a pink elephant’s trunk, then look down at the actual flesh between her legs and connect the two. Until I got my period, I didn’t know where my vagina actually was. I didn’t know what a condom was until a classmate (who had transferred from a public school) rolled one down the stick shift in her car. When my mom explained sex to me, she told me that the “man sticks his penis inside the woman’s vagina and squirts in the semen.” I imagined the penis as a ketchup bottle being squeezed and making that squirty-fart sound. That was the end of the conversation. My mom made no mention of the clitoris or the g-spot, and I asked no follow up questions.
Because of my upbringing, I’ve always been drawn to realistically portraying topics of interest to women that are still considered taboo in our male-dominated world. Abortion (with Obvious Child), and now female sexual pleasure with YES, GOD, YES. Male pleasure is discussed in reproductive curriculum because it’s an essential part of conception, whereas female pleasure is usually left out. As a result, young women often feel like their genitals are off limits even to themselves. The simple act of exploring their own bodies is seen as shameful. This is certainly how I felt growing up, and it was particularly pronounced for me because Catholicism teaches that self-pleasure is sinful.
So when I discovered masturbation at age fourteen, I thought I had done something truly unforgivable. An intense guilt hung over me for days that was so extreme I couldn’t eat. With this film, it was important for me to portray sexual pleasure and masturbation as normal, as something women can want. My hope is that all women, religious or not, can start to feel more comfortable discussing these topics with partners and younger generations, and amongst themselves.
My hope is that they feel no shame or embarrassment in expecting and experiencing pleasure. Finally, I wanted to show my protagonist coming of age sexually on her own. Not through uncomfortable partnered sex (which is how we often see early female sexual experiences on film) but through the exploration of her own body. Most girls explore their bodies long before they have experiences with anyone else, and yet we rarely get to see this portrayed on screen. YES, GOD, YES is, ultimately, a love story between one woman and her vagina.
BEST DIRECTOR / BREAKTHROUGH DIRECTOR, Karen Maine
BEST ACTRESS / BREAKTHROUGH ACTOR, Natalia Dyer (Stranger Things)
TIMOTHY SIMONS (Veep), DONNA LYNNE CHAMPLIN (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), ALISHA BOE (13 Reasons Why), WOLFGANG NOVOGRATZ (The Last Summer), FRANCESCA REALE (Stranger Things), SUSAN BLACKWELL (Side by Side by Susan Blackwell)
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About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.