BODY PARTS – Review by Marilyn Ferdinand

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It appears that women producers and directors have been very busy since the 2018 founding of Time’s Up, a collective of more than 300 women in Hollywood working to combat sexism and sexual harassment in the film and television industry. Since that year, we’ve seen feature films and a TV documentary series that have exposed the activities inspired by or directly about sexual predators Harvey Weinstein (The Assistant [2019], She Said [2022], Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes [2021]) and Roger Ailes (Bombshell [2019]), as well as film analyses like Women According to Men (2020) and Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power (2022) that have broadened our understanding of how film and television not only reflect society, but also groom audiences to accept the relative power positions of men and women in society.

Now Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s documentary Body Parts zeroes in on how the sex that sells gets onto big and small screens, often at the expense of the actors who must depict it. Guevara-Flanagan takes us from the early days of cinema, when a large number of female screenwriters were able to create fully human women characters, through the repressive years of the Production Code and post-World War II workplace that kicked women out of the script room and turned them into sexual eunuchs and hausfraus on screen, and on into the sexually liberated ’60s and ’70s that forced female nudity to proliferate in the movies.

The careers of female actors who balked at taking their clothes off were destroyed, providing an object lesson to their peers to go along to get along. Actor/activists Jane Fonda, Rosanna Arquette, and Rose McGowan, director Karyn Kusama, nonbinary director Joey Soloway, and trans actor Alexandra Billings are among the industry insiders who offer their experiences and insights. Guevara-Flanagan also turns to academics and historians to discuss the evolution of the industry and its long history of sexual harassment.

Actor Emily Meade, whose role as a prostitute on the TV series “The Deuce” put her in many uncomfortable situations, made history by demanding that a new crew position be created—the intimacy coordinator—whose job is to choreograph sex scenes in a way that protects both male and female actors. This development has helped mitigate some of the damage actors face but does nothing to protect them from having their images reproduced endlessly in online memes.

Body Parts is vital as far as it goes, but a larger question remains unanswered. At a time when, for good and ill, parents are asserting their own agency in teaching their children the life lessons many of us once got at school, shouldn’t they be assuming major responsibility for educating their children about sex? Societies, including in countries more sexually uninhibited than that of the United States, lean too much on the entertainment industry to teach children and young adults how to relate to each other in the world. Social media has only exacerbated the problem. I am not advocating censorship. Rather, I am urging parents to provide their children with a solid foundation that will help them view critically the images and actions they become exposed to throughout their lives.

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Marilyn Ferdinand (Archived Contributor)

Marilyn Ferdinand is the founder of the review and commentary site Ferdy on Films (2005-2018) and the fundraising Love of Films: The Film Preservation Blogathon. She currently writes for Cine-File and has written on film and film preservation for Humanities magazine, Fandor, and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. She lives in the Chicago area.