Porn’s Michael Lucas Documents Israel’s Vibrant Gay Life
Michael Lucas doesn’t shy away from controversy. In fact, some would say he courts it. In fact, many would say it.
Since his arrival in New York several years ago, the Russian-born Lucas has built Lucas Entertainment into the East Coast’s largest and best-known gay porn production and releasing company. His porn oeuvre has become known for its kinky fetish videos, but the studio also wins praise in the adult-film industry for high production quality.
Unlike many studios that limit sets to an abandoned warehouse or back room, Lucas has taken his actors to Barcelona, Mykonos and other scenic locales. He’s also done a contemporary New York version of "Dangerous Liaisons" and "La Dolce Vita."
Outspoken Advocate of Israel
No film, however, has won the praise of his "Men of Israel," which features gay porn’s first all-Israeli cast, some very hot sabras (Israeli natives) in equally breathtaking settings. The film was one of those rare gay porn movies that received attention in the wider world, including Chelsea Handler, who, along with her co-hosts, tossed off some bon mots (examples: This is the only porn film where everyone in the orgy scene has an advanced degree; Lucas is having trouble releasing the uncut version).
Kidding aside (and even his biggest antagonists would have to admit that the film is hot), "Men of Israel" both reflects Lucas’ fascination with the ancient land of the Bible and helped foster an abiding interest that led him to take a dual citizenship. Lucas, who describes himself as a Jewish atheist, has emerged in recent years as one of the most outspoken gay advocates of Israel.
In columns for the Advocate and Huffington Post, Lucas has defended Israel against defenders of the Palestinians. Lucas has taken particular aim at gay activists, who combine what they see as humanitarian interest in the plight of Palestinians with criticism of "pinkwashing." They claim that the Israeli government, its tourist agency and liberal defenders, are exploiting the relaxed climate in cities like Tel Aviv and Eilat to justify or deflect Palestinian repression.
Lucas has extended his avowedly pro-Zionist sympathies with a decided antipathy to Islam. In columns, interviews and lectures, Lucas has fiercely condemned what he claims is ingrained homophobia. His outspoken stance has earned him widespread notoriety -- including some who agree in general with his pro-Israel stance.
At a recent dinner party, when I mentioned Lucas to a gay executive at a prominent Jewish organization, he practically spit out "Lucas is a "fascist." Not only would such a comment not bother Lucas, it’s that kind of comment that keeps him in full-speed rock-the-boat in-your-face mode.
Now Lucas has taken his pro-Israeli advocacy to a new level. He has stepped out of his presumed X-rated comfort zone into documentary filmmaking. In its 46-minute running time, "Understanding Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land" includes interviews with a gay member member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament; an openly gay member of the Israeli Defense Forces, Israel’s formidable army; an Arab-Israeli journalist; and a gay pair of dads.
Even though he never addresses pinkwashing, Lucas always intended the film, which is being screened on Feb. 8 at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, as a direct challenge to anti-Israeli gay activists.
Countering ’Pinkwashing’ Argument
That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have strong feelings on the subject. In a recent interview, he dismissed such activists’ concerns as "pure anti-Semitism." His proof is in what he sees as their selective outrage; that is, singling out Israeli treatment of the Palestinians while ignoring multiple examples of atrocities committed by one faction against another in a region mired in ancient tribal feuds.
"They could care less about Palestinians," he said. "The don’t care about what’s happening to Syrians or to the Kurds. I care more about Palestinians than they do.
"It’s pointless to talk to them," he says of critics of "pinkwashing." "You’ll never change their minds."
"Undressing Israel" does not directly address the pinkwashing controversy. It’s clear, however, that the impulse to make this film was in hopes of silencing LGBT and left-wing critics of Israel by highlighting the tiny Jewish nation’s gay life.
"This is the answer to pinkwashing," Lucas said. "This movie is a slap in their face. Pinkwashing is supposed to be a government conspiracy to talk away tension."Certainly, it took a sense of mission to take the time and money to do the film. Lucas readily admits that it’s hopeless to expect to see any return from the $100,000 he says he sank into the film, since even some documentaries nominated for Oscars never make any money.
"Undressing Israel" makes a case for surprisingly forward-thinking from the tiny Jewish nation-state, and Israel as a beacon of LGBT rights in a region depressingly devoid of them.
"Like in other countries," he said about LGBT Israelis, "they have to take their rights. Nobody gives you your rights. I wanted to set the record straight about civil rights in israel. The gay community is winning."
The film focuses on gay life solely: "No other film has shows Israel as a haven for gay people," Lucas said. Nor does it address issues such as the attitudes of the small but highly vocal ultra-religious Jews who have protested Pride marches in Jerusalem.
"There’s no need to address religion," he said. "There’s no politics in this film. This is covered by every news outlet. The point of the movie is gay life in Israel as it is today. People don’t know that Israel has a thriving gay community."
Popular Gay Tourist Destination
Actually, Tel Aviv has become popular with moneyed gay men, so much so that the International Gay & Lesbian Travel designated Tel Aviv the best gay destination in the world in 2011. The city, which sprawls along the Mediterranean, stands as a brash very young sister to more staid Jerusalem. Considered the gay capital of the Middle East, it has a very active gay center (which made world headlines when a crazed gunman shot up a youth meeting a few years ago) and has developed a nightlife scene that has given rise to international DJ stars like Offer Nissam, Mickey Friedmann and Oran Nizri.
Israel has also produced several gay-themed films, including the military romance "Yossi and Jagger" and "Eyes Wide Open," about a married Orthodox Jew who has an affair with a younger man. "Out in the Dark," a new film about an Israeli lawyer and a Palestinian student that is also being screened at the Atlanta festival.
In many respects, Israel is more forward-thinking about gay life than the United States (not that that’s so exceptional these days, alas). Anti-sodomy laws were repealed in 1988, 15 years before us. And it was done by the country’s parliament, not by its high court, as here.
Openly gay Israelis have no obstacles to adoption. Last year, an Israel court ruled that a male couple married in Canada could legally divorce, and the state effectively recognizes common-law same-sex relationships. As for the military, Israel took the lead in promoting openly serving personnel, not surprising in a country that looks to every available able-bodied person.
Above all, Lucas emphasizes that the film was his own idea, without any outside funding. So far, no one has protested festival showings in Los Angeles and Tucson, Ariz., although Lucas said he has heard rumors of a "boycott" of his bread-and-butter, the porn films.
In typical fashion, the ever self-assured entrepreneur doesn’t express the least worry.
"Anyone can say anything he wants," he said. "People can say they were buying my movies but no longer will because I’m a Zionist. It doesn’t show in our records. These people are just loud. Most gay people either like Israel or don’t care."
"Undressing Atlanta" will be shown at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival on Feb. 8 at 11:55 a.m. Lucas will introduce the film and hold a Q&A immediately after, with Benjamin Hary, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Emory University. To purchase a ticket to the screening, go to http://www.ajff.org/double-feature/undressing-israel-gay-men-promised-land-invisible-men. For more information on the film, go to www.undressingisrael-themovie.comhttp://www.undressingisrael-themovie.com or www.facebook.com/UndressingIsrael. For information on Lucas’ travelogues, novelistic adaptations and other sub-genres of the male erotic art film (OK, gay porn), go to LucasEntertainment.com.