Woman holds up "Don't Ask Me If I Came" sign in documentary film, "The Dilemma of Desire"

SXSW 2020: ‘The Dilemma of Desire’ Review

The Dilemma of Desire brings an awakening message about women empowerment and sheds light on women living with the experiences and myths about gender politics and desires. 

Social-issue filmmaker, Maria Finitzo, does a phenomenal job at capturing the real stories of these women. With 25 years under her belt, she is also a two-time Peabody Award winner. Documenting films such as Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita (2007), In The Game (2014), and 5 Girls (2001).

Director Maria Finitzo works with her sound crew.
Director Maria Finitzo works with her sound crew. / Photo credit: Kartemquin Films

Although the City of Austin cancelled this year’s South By Southwest (SXSW) on March 6 due to coronavirus concerns, we were able to review the film, which would’ve premiered during the SXSW Film Festival.


The documentary focuses on the personal stories of these five women: Umnia, Sunny, Becca, Jasmine, and Coriama. The filmmaker interweaves interview snippets from these four experts: Sophia Wallace (concept artist), Dr. Stacey Dutton (neuroscientist), Dr. Lisa Diamond (Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies), and Ti Chang (industrial designer).

The experiences these women share provides different perspectives that women have with the overwhelming shame of sexual desires and the right to feeling good. The power of understanding female anatomy is what brings us to this moving documentary. Squashing gender politics is what these women aim for. Nothing feels better than taking down the patriarchy!  

Sexuality is repressed  

Woman holds up a sign "Don't Ask Me If I Came" in the documentary, "The Dilemma of Desire"
Own your pleasure / Photo credit: Kartemquin Films

Women have never been allowed to express their sexual needs as opposed to men. According to Dr. Dutton, college anatomy textbooks fail to teach the correct anatomical depiction of the clitoris. And sex education focuses more on the penis than it does on the clitoris, a word that is still being put under much scrutiny as of today. 

Women are shamed into thinking that being vocal is immodest and not lady-like. But, it takes a lot of courage for any women to have a voice without the crippling pressures of being judged. 

Pleasure is a form of resistance 

Wallace talks about the importance of the symbol of the clitoris and how it’s a power movement for women. The meaning of embracing one’s sexuality means giving women the power they have over their bodies. Making clitoris art for a living, Wallace uses it as a way to address the social issue with the unequality of pleasure. 

Coriama is big into expressing herself through creating podcasts and talks about being sexually fluid. While being a queer woman, she feels that there shouldn’t be any shame in talking about women’s sexual desires and needs. It’s important that women are vocal about what they want because most of the time, they’re not receiving more than they are giving. 

Know thy body

Sophia Wallace in her art studio
Sophia Wallace in her art studio / Photo credit: Kartemquin Films

Ti Chang talks about creating elegant vibrators that are designed to suit women’s preference. Since the original vibrator was created by a man, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s pleasurable for women. Chang talks about enjoying an orgasm without the fear of being belittled or feeling shameful about experiencing consensual pleasure. It’s important that we normalize the conversations of women’s sexuality and bring it into light. 

Jasmine makes her living as a dancer. She talks about growing up in a religious household and not being able to express her womanhood. Going to college, she is able to explore her sexuality. She believes that being a dancer has set higher standards for herself and makes her more aware of what she wants. Even with everything going on, she utilizes her time and energy into performing in front of people hoping to empower women that need that extra push.

Cultural differences in sexual life 

Umnia’s experience is probably the one that stuck with me the most. Being married is typically a huge milestone within a woman’s life. But, the scary idea of being with someone who doesn’t truly see you for who you are or try to understand your sexual desires can be brutal. Umnia’s experience made her realize all the things she was missing out on. 

She vows to one day talk to her niece about her sexuality when she’s older. She wants her to unlearn what she knows about how women should be. 


Two ladies have a laugh, checking out the Sunny vibrator
Two ladies have a laugh, checking out the Sunny vibrator / Photo credit: Kartemquin Films

Story flow

The storyline is an enriching and powerful message that sticks with me through the entirety of this film. It provides a lot of insight of what different women deal with on a daily basis. Whether it’s cat-calling, shaming women into being something they’re not, or trying to live up to societal expectations. This film gives us the real stories that society is uncomfortable with talking about. I couldn’t keep my attention off the screen and if you’re a true feminist, this film is worth your time. 


The music in this documentary is empowering. Even with parts of the film which are solemn, the music puts you in the scene and in the moment of each story. It also fits perfectly within the timeline and none of the music is random. The intent of the music helps fill its sole purpose while captivating the audience and awakening our emotions.

Lighting and angle

Lighting and angles is the key component of creating the perfect documentary. Finitzo properly gives the main subjects the perfect lighting which illuminates the faces and gets different angles of all the women. The side shots were my favorite! I felt that it helps give us a great visualization of them within their environment. 

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Jasmine in the documentary, "The Dilemma of Desire"
Jasmine / Photo credit: Kartemquin Films

This was a very powerful and important documentary that was an eye-opening experience for me. I believe that conversations about women sexuality or masturbation should be a normalized topic. Catering to women’s needs is important and should be a priority in any healthy relationship. Women deserve the right to feel good!

Currently, the film has not premiered to the public, but you can follow The Dilemma of Desire on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Read more of Davie’s articles here.

Check out more of our SXSW coverage here.

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Featured image credit: Kartemquin Films

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