I remember I never really cared for him until he did an interview before his film "Blue Valentine" came out about that film's inability to receive what the cast and crew felt was a reasonable rating.
The film, an incredibly raw depiction of the breakdown of a marriage, apparently depicts a scene in which a woman receives oral sex. It's horrifying, I know, but try not to stop reading here. Because of this, the movie was given an NC-17 rating, basically a death knell for any movie hoping for awards buzz.
Ryan publicly argued against the rating, saying:
You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are depicted on screen. The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a secual scenario which is both complicit and complex. It's misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman's sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film.Did you swoon?
It reminds me of the HBO shows that everyone gushes over for their incredible content. Women are frequently shown cavorting naked around (or on) fully clothed men, as in "True Detective" and "Game of Thrones", adding nothing to the story except for sexual interest, and yet we never see a woman actually enjoying a sexual encounter. We see them learning and teaching each other to fake it, but never genuinely enjoying a sexual encounter that they are not being paid for.
Sex scenes that are unrealistic (let's say, for example, that comically long one in "The Watchmen") are fine with the MPAA. Ones that are violent are okay as well. "Boys Don't Cry", which contains a scene of sexual violence against a woman so jarring that I had to look away, received a regular R rating. I can understand how scenes like this that don't glorify the actions could be considered important for the viewer to see, thus not necessitating an NC-17 or worse, but it's hard to imagine how or why a realistic depiction of an otherwise normal sexual relationship, one not seen through the lens of the male pornography fantasy, would be deserving such a rating.
Additionally, it's hard to imagine that everyone finds such violent scenes as disconcerting as they are meant to be. I am always reminded of high school when "American History X" was most boys' favorite movie - it was interesting and "deep" and supposedly conveyed a strong message (thought whatever that was supposed to be totally escaped me during my few viewings). You'd ask them what their favorite scene was and they would invariably say either the curb stomping scene, when the white, racist character curb stomps a black man, or the scene where the racist gives his big speech justifying the killing of black people before going in to rob a store. This is a movie that's supposed to be telling us how bad racism is, and yet the scenes that people remember best, those that stick out most, are the ones that do the opposite.
I remember watching the movie "A History of Violence" with an ex boyfriend. The movie was supposed to be about how violence begets violence and probably offer some message about how violence is bad, but throughout the whole movie he seemed bored until the scene when the main character shoots a foe point blank in the head. He jumped up a bit, excited, saying "whaaaaatttt" in an awed way, fascinated by this display of violence that this very movie was supposed to be telling us was wrong.
Ryan's ability to see that there is a major difference between portraying a regular sexual experience with a consenting woman and one that is violent or viewed through the male lens is proof of his being the most perfect man in the world, I think. I am endlessly impressed by him, from that time he broke up a fight in the middle of the street:
to the time he was gracious enough about a very silly meme about him to read some choice ridiculous quotes aloud:
to when he speaks publicly about his feelings about the way we view female sexuality in society. I wish there were more men like Ryan out there - ones who not just understand that these things are not okay but forms his own feelings and opinions about it and does not feel ashamed to speak about it publicly.