When I watched the newly released American Pie: Girls’ Rules last month, it had hit #5 in the US on Netflix, proving that during this streaming-centric time, I was most definitely not the only one to hop on this film the moment it dropped. As someone who’s seen the first two movies in the American Pie franchise, I had some expectations going into this one. What I expected was sex, masturbation, loss of viriginity and pie. What I got were all of the aforementioned, but also consent, confidence and the glory of female friendships – with a smattering of vibrators thrown in.
In Girls’ Rules, female sexuality has the spotlight, and it bathes in it. As a film working to help destigmatize female teen sexuality, it brings up a broad spectrum of what this encompasses. Masturbating to JFK speeches, Ben Wa ball incidents, sex store field trips, casual hookups in the library, long-distance relationships, vibrating underwear (and of course, cherry pie), are only a few of the experiences with female sexualtiy that this movie highlights. But perhaps the best part of this film is not what is highlighted, but how. In American Pie: Girls’ Rules, female teen sexuality is something to celebrate and be confident in. And that’s right about where Actress Natasha Behnam comes in.
Ending the stigma surrounding female sexuality
Natasha Behnam, the actress behind one of the four leading females in this film, Michelle, believes deeply in the destigmatizaiton of female teen sexualtiy. “It’s really important just to validate women, and to say whatever your experience is with sexuality that it’s absolutely okay,” she says. “And that doesn’t mean that you have to be talking about it, or be a spokesperson for your sexuality, but just to know that it’s allowed.”
As someone who relates to her confident and curious character Michelle, Behnam wishes she had a movie like this sooner. Not that the OG American Pie isn’t one of the most beloved and quoted slapstick comedies about high school of all time (let’s be honest, how many times have you used the illustrious quote “One time, at band camp…”?) But the original American Pie lacks in diversity, inclusion and it doesn’t go nearly as deep into the female sexual experience as that of the men. “Because we live in such a patriarchal society, it’s not as okay for us to talk about [sex] as openly as men,” Behnam says, and that’s more than evident in a rewatch of the first installment of the franchise.
Along with aims to normalize female teen sexuality, this movie has a cast with the same range of diversity as the sex that it focuses on. “The diversity in our cast is such a beautiful thing. You see women of every different color, every different size, and that doesn’t have to do with anything,” she says. “We’re just living our lives as seniors in high school that aren’t worried about anything, except this moment in their life and their love for their friends.” Where the OG American Pie lacks in poignancy and depth, Girls’ Rules comes swooping in, while still retaining the hopelessly silly structure that’s come to be synonymous with the franchise.
To Behnam, though, this movie isn’t just about sex. “It’s more about self-discovery, self-love and self-acceptance to me,” she says, explaining her own experience going to a sex store with friends in college. In the movie, Michelle speaks to Annie frankly about how going to a sex store isn’t something weird or to be ashamed of. “And I love that!” says Behnam. “To me, that solidified my character.” Both Behnam and Michelle are unapologetically confident, and revolve their lives around helping others.
Making advocacy easy
When not writing, acting or dreaming of having her own production company, Behnam is proud to be an advocate for social justice issues. “It’s not difficult to care about other people,” she says. “Some days I don’t understand why everyone isn’t fighting for each other. I am a firm believer that we’re all one; we are all human. If you remember that, if you tap into that empathetic side of yourself, it’s really easy to see that, like, Black lives matter, that children shouldn’t be in cages, that immigrants and refugees deserve rights.”
Advocacy is more than just important these days, and social media has grown into one of the most powerful advocate spaces at our disposal, but for many hard-working and ambitious people it can be hard to find the time to utilize it. But Behnam doesn’t see it that way. “If you have the mentality of ‘I have to fix the world in a day,’ that’s unrealistic, but if you integrate this type of stuff into your daily lives, it’s not difficult [to find the time].” Behnam has come to learn that if you can do even one thing a day that’s not for you, it’s a step in the right direction.
So which actionable items does Behnam suggest? Well, first you must simply “Go on instagram and follow the advocates,” because they’re posting content all the time to raise awareness and help others get involved. And after that? Behnam explains that it’s important just to listen. “We do live in such a capitalist society, and you’re being fed messages from the media… like at the end of the day, so many people are doing it for profit, so I’m really passionate about finding the truth from the sources,” she says. And if you’re on the hunt for an organization to start with, you might consider South LA Cafe, a Black-owned, family run coffee shop and grocery store that’s doing incredible things in LA with whom Behnam herself has been a volunteer.
Doing it all
Now, besides volunteering, advocating for social justice, and starring in feature films like American Pie Girls’ Rules and the forthcoming holiday rom com Cupid for Christmas, Behnam lives a flourishing artistic life. She’s written two dark comedy TV series and hopes to bring them to the screen one day soon, both with refreshingly unique premises.
Company centers around five roommates navigating their twenties. “[They] accidentally turn to prositution to clear a debt they unknowingly accumulated,” she says. Talk about serendipity! The other, called Soulmates, came from a very real space for Behnam. It’s about a girl who can travel interdimensionally, but that’s not the source of her worries. “There’s this guy that’s not only ghosting her in one dimension, but he could be ghosting her in a million dimensions.” Of course my mind went to what would happen if Han Solo started getting freaky with the read receipts, and then ghosted Leia on every possible platform and planet. TLDR: interdimensional ghosting; everyone’s worst nightmare.
But with somany facets of Behnam’s professional life, how does she stay centered? She claims it’s all about surrounding yourself with the right people. “I’ve been really lucky to have friends and mentors that saw my strengths and encouraged me to believe in my dreams regardless of how big they were,” she says. She also has a badass crew of BFFs who she coined her ‘artistic soulmates.’ They met in college and all work in different areas of the industry. They even dream of working on each other’s projects in the future – “Kind of like a Judd Apatow crew.”
Yet still Behnam’s dreams reach even further than that; she hopes to start her own production company someday like the great Mindy Kaling, Issa Rae and Phoebe Waller Bridge. “I have stories I want to tell,” Behnam says, and I personally cannot wait to hear them.