In 2011, actress and filmmaker Lina Esco went with a handful of friends to Occupy Wall Street, curious to see the response to a group of topless women.
“Within minutes there were hundreds of people taking pictures, and they didn’t know what to do with these boobs,” Esco told The Frisky. “After 10 minutes, I said to them, ‘[Our nipples are] not going anywhere, so let’s have a conversation.’ And we did. And I realized that the conversation was only getting bigger, and the nipple was this Trojan Horse that was going to reveal so many things. And I knew I had to do this film.”
The film she is referring to is called “Free The Nipple,” which addresses the societal aversion to women’s nipples. After her Occupy Wall Street experience, Esco immediately came home and started working on a script; she found herself eager to explore why women’s bodies were subject to a whole different set of rules and norms than the bodies of men. By mid-2012, she had raised enough money and started filming in New York City with Zach Grenier from “Law & Order” and “The Good Wife” and Lola Kirke, sister of “Girls” star Jemima. Despite the fact that going topless in New York is legal (as opposed to the 35 states where it is illegal for women to be topless) filming shut down by police.
“I was like, what the fuck am I going to do?” Esco recounted. “I’m doing this film ‘Free The Nipple,’ and I can’t show my fucking nipples! It was the opening scene in my film. I had to figure out a way. So we decided to censor the first half of the film, and the second half they aren’t censored. We shot that part with very guerilla-style shooting.”
Despite some challenges, Esco finally finished her film. “Free The Nipple” tells the story of a group of young women who take to the streets of New York City topless in order to protest what they see as the archaic censorship laws in the United States. As the movie’s web site explains, it “explores the contradictions in our media-dominated society, where acts of violence and killing are glorified, while images of a woman’s body are censored by the FCC and the MPAA.”
In a case of life imitating art, Esco and her production crew were told by their lawyers that the MPAA would give them an NC-17 rating — which is considered pornography, meaning most theaters won’t distribute it. But, according to Esco, “the movie has not one sexual act in the film. Not one.”
While working on the film, Esco knew that it would end up being much more than just a movie. “The goal of this film was to be in theaters and then hopefully start a movement. We thought that the movement would start after the movie came out, but the movement has come beforehand,” she said. For example, Free The Nipple’s Facebook page has been deleted a number of times. “But,” according to Esco, “Free The Boobs [Facebook page] is totally acceptable — that’s oversexualized images to the point where you’re objectifying women. And the only difference is they don’t show the areola!”
Conversations are popping up all over with the hashtag #FreeTheNipple helping the movement along. This past December, Esco’s friend Miley Cyrus decided to speak about the film because “it hit close to home for her.” Cyrus’s endorsement got some fire behind the campaign and drew attention to the film. And, just last month, Scout Willis made waves by posting topless pictures of herself on Twitter as part of the the #FreeTheNipple campaign.
The movement hasn’t ended with normalizing women’s bodies, however. #FreeTheNipple was also instrumental in getting Facebook to reverse their ban on posting photos of breastfeeding. “Free The Nipple is kind of like the umbrella that all these other things fall under,” Esco explained. “Like breastfeeding. Women aren’t able to breastfeed in public in five states!”
#FreeTheNipple isn’t stopping with though, however. They recently released “Everybody’s Gotta Eat,” a PSA directed by Sophie Tabet that takes on breastfeeding in public. Esco says that there are plans to expand the PSAs to cover other issues that oppress or affect women, like the fight for equal pay.
Esco realizes that not everyone will be on board with the Free The Nipple campaign, but that doesn’t deter her. She just hopes she can elicit some change. “Just because our name is called Free The Nipple does not mean that we want everyone to go on a topless revolution. That’s not it. It’s about having the same rights. It’s about equality – that is the core issue. If a guy has the right to go topless or post pictures of himself topless, women should have that right,” she explained. “It’s the same areola.”
Avital Norman Nathman blogs at The Mamfesto. Her book, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood To Fit Reality, is out now. Follow her on Twitter.
[Image by Mimi Margalef via Facebook.com/FreeTheNipple]