Free the Nipple Movie Review

| December 19, 2014 | 5 Comments

Free the Nipple from a Topfree Activist Point of View

Last week I attended the much-anticipated Free the Nipple movie premiere at the IFC Theater in NYC. The screening took place the night before its official release date. They had a little press-junket beforehand with director / co-writer and actor Lina Esco, her co-stars Lola Kirke, Casey LaBow and others.

For this premiere, Lina set aside some free tickets for women who’d go topfree in the audience to support the cause. Naturally, I was excited to see the movie and quickly signed myself up!

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Free The Nipple Poster

Now, for some background… In 2011, I first learned about women’s legal right to go topfree in public in NY state and I’ve been a bit of a top-free activist ever since.

Though it’s been legal since 1992, that hasn’t prevented the NYPD from arresting a number of topless women over the years, myself included! For those who may not know, I was arrested on Wall Street for being topless during an art performance in August of 2011. Though the unjustifiable charges (disorderly conduct) were dropped, I wanted an apology from the NYPD / NYC. I also wanted to make an impact that would help stop this kind of thing from happening to other women. So, after much deliberation, I decided to sue the city and I won. My lawsuit was one of a few that led NYC to issue a memo to all of NYPD in February 2013, reminding them about the legality of women going topfree in public.

I’ve also spent sunny days with The Outdoor Coed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society and in late August of 2011, I organized a top-free day in Central Park.

So this is how topfree equality became one of the causes that I care about and advocate for. I’m also a naturist, and while one might think I’m just supporting more “nudity” in public, I’m not. Being a naturist doesn’t mean wanting to be naked in public everywhere. Nor does it mean that I want to be naked all the time. My support of this cause comes from a deep-rooted feminist outlook. It’s about the gender equality.

I don’t like being discriminated against because I have a vagina, which is what topless laws do.

I don’t like society trying to control women’s sexuality using modesty rules and laws.

I don’t like society blaming female victims of sexual assault because they were “asking for it” through their state of dress.

I don’t like that breastfeeding women are asked to cover up or go “sit in a corner”.

I don’t like society slut-shaming women, especially those who go topfree or wear skimpy clothing on a hot summer day (while accepting the sexual objectification of women on billboards). Female sexuality is used to sell products, but as soon as women try to own their bodies or sexuality, they are vilified, shamed, attacked. This needs to change.

That is why it was so encouraging to me when I discovered Free the Nipple not too long after their campaign started in 2012. Finally, I thought, here is a group of female activists who are putting together a movie that will draw mass attention to topfreedom, women’s equality and how it all ties into the issues named above.

The Free The Nipple campaign took off on social media. A huge factor was the vocal support it received from celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Scout Willis. (Scout staged her own topfree stunt in NYC and wrote an excellent article about it on xojane.)

In the media, Esco highlighted a lot of the sexism and discrimination in how society treats women and their bodies. At the beginning, much of the focus was put on American media’s twisted censorship policies. The media’s portrayal of graphic violence is considered acceptable whereas a female nipple will send people into a frenzy. Esco’s point is a valid one but, in my opinion, it’s not why women should be given the right to go topfree. Though I disagreed with part of her approach, I figured her statements were crafted as an easy way to gain attention and garner more support from the mainstream public.

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Free The Nipple – Lina Esco Quote

Flashback to the Free The Nipple movie which is now out in theaters. While the film is supposedly based (loosely) on true events, the movie itself is not a documentary. The story follows a journalist named With (Lina Esco) as she discovers a group of activist women crusading for the right to go topless in public. The story takes place in NYC where cops willfully ignore the law and make arrests (as is the case in real life – a point I know all too well!).

With tracks down the ringleader, Liv (Lola Kirke), in the hopes of interviewing her for a news story. While With manages to get her interview, she is crushed when her employer refuses to print it and during the meeting actually decides to fire her. Inspired, With decides to team up with Liv and a few other recruited women to launch a movement they call Free the Nipple. Shortly thereafter, more topless demonstrations, arrests, lawyers and PR stunts take place.

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Photo: Free the Nipple movie screenshot, the topfree activists running in capes

The movie itself got lots of bad reviews. It was deemed amateurish, confusing and shallow. Reviewers mentioned the plot points that didn’t make sense as well as some inaccuracies that were probably quite embarrassing for the filmmaker.

One particular aspect seemed to be of particular interest to critics. In the opening scene, you see a group of women running down Wall Street topless but in stark contrast to the rest of the film, the women’s breasts are censored / pixelated. The question they wanted answered was – WHY?

Esco explained it in the Q & A session after the movie, and of course it’s come up in her interviews. Apparently, the crew had obtained a permit to shoot on Wall Street. But as soon as topless women went into the street, the cops threatened to shut it down. Why? The NYPD claimed that passersby might think they’re shooting pornography. So they found themselves shooting the opening scene of Free the Nipple while not being allowed to show their nipples!

So during that first scene or two, I guess they used discrete pasties or something along those lines. During the rest of film, they went topless. Afraid of getting arrested on the streets of NYC, most of the topless scenes were done in one take. The actors were literally running with the cops on their heels. How sad that in a city as progressive as NYC, where women are legally allowed to be topless, they were constantly dealing with the fact that they could get arrested!

As a topfree activist, I do have issues with the film and how topless equality was represented. I found that the message of women’s equality was somewhat muddled and just skimmed the surface. While there is a brief segment during Liv’s interview where she touches on the feminist issues related to breasts and female bodies, the rest of the movie is basically about the issue of censorship and their difficulties in funding / launching a grassroots movement.

The censorship theme attempts to drive home the point that America censors harmless nudity and glorifies violence. This point is further made apparent in the beginning of the movie when Spencer Tunick is featured talking about how the New York Times had a problem using one of his photographs because one female breast was visible. They also included some TV news footage from Janet Jackson’s nip slip fiasco during the Superbowl halftime show. To make the point about violence, With is shown watching a TV news report about the Colorado movie theater massacre.

So what is this movement and movie primarily about? Ending censorship? Or helping women regain control of their bodies through topless equality?

In the movie, the girls talk about Femen but make no mention of the women who came before them. They never bring up the fact that the Rochester 7 won their landmark case known as People v Santorelli in 1992 – thus making topfreedom a right for ALL women in NYS. Nor do they acknowledge any of those that got arrested, filed lawsuits and put their reputation and wellbeing on the line for women’s equality.

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(Left to Right) Gigi Graff, Veronice Eveno, Lina Esco, Sarabeth Stroller, Lola Kirke, Casey LaBow & Liza Azuelon at Q&A

During the Q&A session after the screening, Esco seemed to be distancing herself from her own cause. She insisted that Free the Nipple was meant to start a dialogue about all issues related to gender equality. When asked by Scout Willis (who was in the audience) what the next step was and what she felt now that the film was out, Esco seemed uncomfortable and briefly mentioned equal pay – that’s it. Esco made no mention or deep discussion about topfree rights, women’s rights, acceptance or anything else (other than equal pay).

She seemed disconnected or tired of answering the question, “Why nipples, why toplessness?” It felt like she was stating what she thought was a better way to justify her own movie. I feel that women taking back their bodies through top-freedom is worthy of discussion and attention all on its own but unfortunately, I don’t feel that Esco agrees (at least that was my impression).

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Lina Esco at the NYC Movie Premier of Free The Nipple

A few other issues were brought up in the course of the discussion, such as their troubles with law enforcement while filming. Esco also mentioned that it was difficult finding female actors to be in the movie due to the toplessness involved. In addition to this, they were told that the MPAA would give them an NC-17 rating (what filmmakers call the “kiss of death”). While there’s no sex or violence in the movie, apparently female boobs are enough to warrant this rating. The implications of which would mean that most theaters would refuse to show it. (In the end it was released by IFC as unrated.)

The controversy and obstacles they’ve faced in making the movie are arguably more compelling than the movie itself.

Though the message may be a bit ambiguous and while the critics consider it a flop, that’s not to say Free the Nipple hasn’t made a difference. It most definitely has! Since 2012, it has succeeded at igniting a conversation and raising awareness about topfree equality, women’s rights, sexual objectification, breastfeeding, censorship and much more. It has created solidarity among women from all walks of life and all four corners of the world who seek body autonomy and equality.

The Free the Nipple campaign also released a PSA this past summer called “Everybody’s Gotta Eat,” the aim of which was to help normalize breastfeeding. And they actually had a big part in Facebook recently changing their censorship policy to allow visible nipples in breastfeeding photos.

No doubt the FTN campaign has made a positive impact. While it has its faults, I will continue to support it as long as it continues to help the cause more than hinder it.

So what’s next? Esco has said they’ll be using campaign profits to tackle gender equality laws on a federal level. While it sounds ambitious, I hope she actually moves forward with it and I really hope it pans out!

To see the movie and support Free The Nipple: it’s showing in select theaters in NYC (check out IFC theater), or you can get it in Video On Demand, iTunes and Google Play for around $6.99. Update: the movie is now also available to stream on Netflix.

This Free the Nipple Movie Review Was Published by – Young Naturists & Nudists America

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Category: Censorship, Felicity's Nudist Blog, Feminism and Women's Issues, Social Activism

About the Author ()

Author of Felicity's Blog. Co-founder of Young Naturists America. 3rd-generation nudie. Avid reader. Feminist. 70% vegan, 30% vegetarian. When I'm not busy eating, I'm writing about naturism, censorship, topfree equality, body image and other fun topics. I like feedback, so plz leave a comment when you've got something to say!