The naked truth?

Despite the film’s racy title and director Michael Lucas’s ‘adult’ film background, ‘Undressing Israel’ is a strictly clothes-on affair

Michael Lucas521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Michael Lucas521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With his colorful background, Michael Lucas may not fit the bill of a traditional Israel advocate, but he insists that he is more than qualified for the job. The gay adult film entrepreneur is a staunch supporter of the Jewish state and hopes that his new documentary will showcase Israel as a beacon of liberalism and modernity in the Middle East.
Lucas’s documentary, however, is not a stale examination of the diversity of Israel’s population or an assessment of how fairly the IDF conducts itself during conflicts. Instead, the Jewish filmmaker looks at an issue that has only recently begun to garner global interest – Israel’s gay community.
The Moscow-born director’s debut documentary Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land features interviews with a diverse range of gay men, such as MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz); a young Arab-Israeli journalist; a trainer who served in the IDF; and a pair of dads raising their children. Despite the film’s racy title and the director’s “adult” film background, the documentary is a strictly clothes-on affair.
While the gay community in Israel, and Tel Aviv in particular, has recently attracted the attention of some of the world’s media, Lucas insists that most people do not know that Israel is gayfriendly.
In an interview with Metro, he explains that this is something he wants to change.
“When you talk to gay people outside Israel, you usually find that Israel is seen through the prism of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. I wanted to show a side that people don’t get to see very much: It has a vibrant gay community,” he says.
Lucas, who obtained Israeli citizenship four years ago, is no stranger to Israel or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the the Moscow Law University graduate, whose company Lucas Entertainment is one of the world’s most prominent gay adult-film studios, would make his first documentary about Israel's gay community. This, however, is not the first time the multi-award winning adult entertainment actor and director has made a film in Israel. His 2009 Men of Israel was the first adult film shot entirely in the Holy Land with an all- Jewish cast. Despite being filmed in the same location, Lucas insists that his new documentary is absolutely separate and is not a follow-on from the adult film.
“There is no nudity in the film. It’s about real life and gay politics,” he says.
Lucas is keen to point out that he doesn’t hide the fact that he used his notoriety as an adult performer as a platform. As well as his success in the world of adult entertainment, he is a writer for American LGBT-interest magazine The Advocate and The Huffington Post and often speaks at universities about social and political issues, as well as being actively involved in the pro-Israel movement.
“I am a Jew and an Israeli patriot, and the movie was inspired by my love for the country,” explains Lucas.
He says it was important for him to make the film because “America hears very little about gay life in Israel.”
Events such as the killing of two teenagers at the gay center in Tel Aviv made news in 2009, but Lucas says that type of tragedy happens all over the world and is not at all representative of Israel’s attitude toward gay people.
“So it’s time for a positive portrayal. Israel has a lot to be proud of,” remarks Lucas, while suggesting that the Jewish state’s progress on gay rights is one of the achievements that should be shown to the world.
SINCE HE became an Israeli citizen – though he continues to live in New York – Lucas may have been entitled to government funding for the film, but he explains that he did not take contributions or apply for government funding.
Instead, he invested about $100,000 of his own money in the project.
“I would rather see that [government] money go to filmmakers that are not fortunate enough to be in a position to fund their own films,” he says.
When Lucas told his good friend Israeli filmmaker Yariv Mozer about the idea for the film, Mozer immediately jumped on board as co-director. It was through Mozer that Lucas had access to many of the people interviewed in the film.
Despite some of the controversial topics discussed in the film, Lucas explains that he did not face much opposition or hardships when making it.
“The responses I’ve received so far have been positive,” he says.
However, one negative response came from within the Israeli gay community in the form of gay Big Brother host Assi Azar, who refused to be a part of the project, according to Lucas.
“He [Azar] told me that he would not be a part of the movie because in his opinion it was ‘a pro-Israeli propaganda film’” Lucas says. “I tried to convince him that I was simply showing life as it is, so that people might come visit and see for themselves. Unfortunately, neither I nor Yariv could convince him.”
Lucas puts this down to “Azar and I having different goals.”
“My agenda has always been to promote a positive image of Israel abroad,” says Lucas proudly, and for him it is important that the movie be accepted by all kinds of film festivals, from those centering on LGBT or Jewish issues to more general ones. “I am trying to appeal to a wider audience. For me, the most important thing is that people go to Israel,” he explains. “I want to see overbooked hotels and clubs packed with tourists. Israel needs tourist money.”
While projecting Israel in a positive light is a main aim for Lucas, just as important in his opinion is defending Israel and the Jewish people amid increasing anti-Zionism. The director is very outspoken in his defense of Israel and has been known to go to great lengths to oppose those who try to delegitimize the Jewish state. In 2011 he succeeded in bringing about the cancellation of an “Israeli Apartheid Week” slated to be held at New York’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Center. At the time, he told The Jerusalem Post that he “defeated a group of anti-Semites who sought to equate Israel with the former South African apartheid regime.”
Two years later he is still as passionate as ever about his defense of the Jewish state.
“In today’s world, it is politically incorrect to say you hate Jews, but yesterday’s anti-Semites now call themselves anti- Zionists,” he says. “They often have a sick preoccupation with Israel that goes beyond their supposed concern for international law or human rights. I think Israel is doing a great job under difficult circumstances, and I can’t think of another country that would remain so democratic and tolerant while surrounded by 350 million people that want to wipe it off the face of the Earth,” Lucas says. “If Mexico dropped a single bomb on Texas, the Americans would obliterate it.”
LUCAS IS well aware that his film will most likely be accused of “pinkwashing,” a term coined by Sarah Schulman in a New York Times op-ed that accuses Israel of using gay politics and culture to disguise the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians. The self-confessed Zionist and gay activist is no stranger to being accused of “pinkwashing,” routinely coming under harsh criticism for his defense of Israel and using the gay community as an example in his articles and speeches. He says the “bogus” concept of “pinkwashing” is built on “many false ideas.”
“As my documentary shows, the Israeli government has not exactly given the gay community everything it wants on a silver platter,” explains Lucas. “Progress there [in Israel] has been the result of a long fight, just like in any other country. Israel is no exception.”
The fight for progress is something that impressed Lucas while he was visiting Israel to make the documentary. For someone who is up to speed with Israel advocacy and gay rights, there were certain issues that even he was surprised to discover. For example, he was pleasantly surprised to hear that the gay community was invited to the Knesset to kick off Gay Pride Week. However, for Lucas it was the individuals fighting to make a difference that really surprised and inspired him.
The story of married gay couple Itai Pinkas and Yoav Arad who, among many other things, recently petitioned the Supreme Court requesting to have a baby through a surrogate mother, struck a chord with him.
Undressing Israel has already been featured at festivals in the US, such as The Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood, Out in the Desert 2013 and premiered at the 2013 Atlanta Jewish Festival in February. It will be screened in Israel at the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival in June.
The world of documentary making opened Lucas’s eyes, and he says he learned a lot from the experience but has no plans to break into mainstream filmmaking.
While he doesn’t rule out the possibility that he might make another documentary in the future, he says that he loves what he currently does and has no plans to stop any time soon.
“The only reason I produced this film is because Israeli documentarians hadn’t done it. I’ve seen a lot of Israeli movies, in fact, that would kill people’s interest in going to Israel,” he says.