The Sun, one of Britain’s most raucous and prominent tabloid newspapers, suffered stinging criticism Monday (25 January) for a headline describing viewers’ “shock” at “raunchy” sex scenes in AIDS drama It’s a Sin.
Praised for its powerful and poignant portrayal of the AIDS crisis that ripped through the nation in the 1980s, It’s a Sin aired last week to critical acclaim.
The Channel 4 drama penned by beloved gay writer and producer Russell T Davies earned plaudits, especially among older queer viewers, for its candid and unapologetic depiction of the horrors of the epidemic and the decades-long spectre it cast onto the LGBT+ community.
Many TV critics and queer viewers also cast It’s a Sin as a watershed moment in the way LGBT+ stories are told – both in the writer’s room and in front of the camera – amid simmering debates over the casting of non-queer actors in queer roles.
As the mainstream British press – one that, at times, has struggled to comprehend gay men using Grindr or the very existence of trans folk – reported on the show’s success, some Twitter users sought to spotlight how some outlets covered a show that lasers in on the sex lives of LGBT+ people.
In one viral tweet that tallied more than 18,800 likes in a day, a user contrasted two online headlines from The Sun that reported on sex scenes shown in It’s a Sin and period dramas such as Netflix’s Bridgerton, among others.
— INFINITE Chris-CO (@freakychris_d) January 25, 2021
“SO MUCH SEX,” the It’s a Sin story headline began in the article first published 22 January. “It’s a Sin viewers shocked by drama’s explicit sex montage with raunchy threesome and oral sex.”
The header was offset by the user against a 30 December 2020 story on period dramas that rounded-up various scenes of mixed-sex couples canoodling.
Its headline read: “HISTORY BUFF: The period dramas with the hottest sex scenes ever – from Bridgerton‘s steamy oral sex to Versailles endless romps.”
In response to fan criticism of its coverage, a representative of The Sun stressed in a statement to PinkNews: “The Sun is a big fan of both Russell T Davies and It’s a Sin.
“We’ve been positively writing up the show since first look last year, and we continue to write hugely positive stories about this brilliant show and the important spotlight it shines on the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
“We regularly write stories about viewers’ shock at explicit sex scenes in drama. That shock comes from the explicit nature of the scene and not from the sexuality being depicted.
“We’ve written stories in recent months on viewer shock at sex scenes in Bridgerton (‘Bridgerton fans mortified by explicit sex scenes as they watch Netflix drama with their parents’), Black Narcissus (‘Gemma Arterton shocks viewers with racy romps as nun in BBC drama Black Narcissus’) and The Great (‘Channel 4’s The Great set to shock viewers with full nudity sex scenes’).
“That said, we do acknowledge that the original headline to this particular story didn’t do it justice and we updated it yesterday afternoon.”
“‘LIBERATING!'”, the headline in the rejigged story begins, “It’s a Sin viewers praise drama’s ‘wonderful’ sex montage and say raunchy scenes came ‘thick and fast’.”
The Sun sparks row over It’s a Sin sex scene coverage
The tinderbox tweet ignited a backlash against the newspaper published by News UK, a key player in media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s news empire.
Countless It’s a Sin fans accused the outlet of “double standards” as fans criticised it for stoking the very sense of queer shame that the show challenges by describing queer sex scenes as “shocking” and “explicit”.
How @TheSun reveals its true colours in contrasting headlines for IT'S A SIN and BRIDGERTON: one's a shocker – the other is the hottest-ever.
Are they really in 2021 and STILL doing this? https://t.co/bzP16uG5Ha
— Mark Shenton 💙 (@ShentonStage) January 26, 2021
Straight sex on telly is ‘hot’
Gay sex is ‘explicit’
The casual homophobia is exhausting https://t.co/jW8qyu6gZk
— Sam (@SAMiCURE) January 25, 2021
It actually baffles me how things like this are still happening! It's not the 70's anymore. If you are complaining about the sex scenes in 'Its a sin' then you are a hypocrite. Get over it, It's a really good show. #ItsASin #LGBTQ #booklovers https://t.co/Xn9GDltD7f
— Author Kayleigh D (@AuthorKayleigh) January 26, 2021
Erm sis, your heteronormativity is showing https://t.co/534Dp2j45D
— Jamie (@JTWilsn) January 25, 2021
The Sun has also since published a piece Tuesday (26 January) that applauded It’s a Sin, with writers reflecting on what the landmark show means to them.
“It’s a Sin isn’t just a reminder that AIDS was a heartbreaking human tragedy,” wrote senior showbiz writer Rob McPhee, “it’s a history lesson on keeping our humanity at a time of national crisis.”