MOVIE OF THE WEEK February 3, 2023: BODY PARTS
“Penises are pornography; tits are art.” This pithy summary of the double standard when it comes to nudity in movies comes courtesy of delightfully frank trans actress Alexandra Billings about halfway through director Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s engaging documentary Body Parts. Billings is one of a host of smart, thoughtful actors and filmmakers interviewed about the history of sexualizing female bodies on the screen — and the impact that’s had on the industry and the culture both on screen and off.
In addition to Billings, familiar faces like Jane Fonda, Rosanna Arquette, and Rose McGowan appear, sharing their stories of exploitation and their lifelong frustrations with a business that has no qualms about asking vulnerable young women to show up for auditions in bikinis, ditch said bikinis at the drop of a hat, and accept scenes with nudity and simulated sex as just another day at work. Directors, writers, veteran showrunners, lawyers, and intimacy coordinators all weigh in on the subject, too, deploring what women have been subjected to in the past and demanding that Hollywood do better now and in the future.
As Nina Menkes did in her fascinating film Brainwashed, Guevara-Flanagan uses countless clips from movies and TV shows to illustrate her points, lifting scenes from the earliest days of cinema all the way up to modern blockbusters (expect to see a lot of boobs). Along the way, she traces the history of female representation and sexuality in the media. In the pre-code 1920s and ’30s, women actually had much more agency both on and behind the camera, with stars like Greta Garbo and Mae West unapologetically strutting their stuff. Censorship led to a period of “romance without sex” in the movies before the cultural revolution of the 1960s and ’70s ushered in the flipside: “sex without romance.” And now, 50 years later, we seem to be entering a time in which women are being heard, seen, and represented in the mainstream media more fully than ever before.
But the fight is far from over. Hollywood is still unquestionably a male-dominated industry, and women still have to fight to avoid being tokenized or objectified. And while big stars may be able to stipulate nudity riders in their contracts or require intimacy coordinators on set, that’s not yet the norm across the business. But hopefully, if films like Body Parts are seen widely, that won’t be the case for long. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Jamie Broadnax Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s gripping documentary Body Parts unpacks a historical account of Hollywood’s depiction of sexuality on celluloid and captures the zeitgeist of today’s activist movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up in its storytelling. Body Parts unveils a very broken system of how actresses are often unprotected while filming nudity scenes and what the industry is doing now to change that. What I found compelling with this documentary is that it scrutinizes each of the problems with the Hollywood system and addresses solutions and methods to how attorneys, trainers, and fellow actors are working to resolve them. It sheds light on how sexuality and nudity in film is often viewed through a hetero male lens and that slowly that lens is being dismantled by women filmmakers, writers and producers creating their own shows and films that reflect stories that represent them. Body Parts is infotainment at its best.
Marilyn Ferdinand 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. Body Parts is vital, but a larger question remains unanswered. 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. 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? Read full review.
Pam Grady: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan surveys female sexuality in movies from a historical perspective, a sociological perspective and the perspectives of working professionals for whom dealing with intimacy on a film or television set is an everyday reality. Full of clips and talking heads, Guevara-Flanagan packs a lot into 90 minutes, perhaps too much as some subjects get short shrift and muddled (the question, for example, why strong women characters so prevalent before mid-20th century faded away is never adequately answered) while others are beating a dead horse (men can behave monstrously on sets and behind the scenes – no kidding). Despite that, the doc is worth a watch. It is fascinating watching an intimacy coordinator at work and it is always a pleasure to listen to Jane Fonda talk about a career now in its seventh decade.
Nell Minow: Body Parts recontextualizes images we have seen for decades as steamy or romantic. Female filmmakers take us behind the scenes to discuss the lopsided “eye” presented in the films and the behavior ranging from insensitive to abusive in creating those pretty pictures. Female bodies on screen are fetishized, romanticized, and “perfected” with body doubles and special effects. As disturbing as the stories of exploitation are, it is the institutionalized combination of enabling and neglect that are the deeper problem. Thankfully, it ends with the prospect of some improvement, not just “intimacy coordinators” but more women filmmakers telling our stories, our way.
Leslie Combemale Body Parts is eye-opening and fascinating in showing not only where the film industry has been in terms of portraying sex onscreen, but where the industry can go when guided by advocates with integrity and genuine concern. Certainly many female film fans and feminists already know change is needed, now through this documentary, many more out there will be made aware of why it’s needed, and how that can happen. Read full review
Jennifer Merin Filmmaker Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s enlightening documentary points out the degree to which movies influence social behavior, then reveals the history and dissects the making of sex scenes in Hollywood and European movies by showing and analyzing movie clips, visiting sex scene sets, and interviewing a wide range of actresses — including Jane Fonda, Rosanna Arquette and Rose McGowan, among others — about their sex scene experiences and the impact that directors’ sudden, not-agreed-to, on set requirement of nudity had on them personally and on their careers. The job creation and advantages of the recently added on set ‘Intimacy coordinator’ crew position is also discussed, as is change brought about by #MeToo and other awareness movements. But is it enough? Body Parts is an excellent and very welcome follow up to Nina Menkes’ Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power, which was featured as AWFJ’s #MOTW for October 21, 2022.
Loren King Body Parts should be required viewing for anyone considering a career in the film industry, actresses especially. With a generous sampling of film clips spanning decades and interviews with numerous creatives from both sides of the camera, the documentary is a revealing, sobering, and often explosive look at the disregard women frequently endure when their role requires nudity or sex. But for all its troubling testimony from forthright actors including Jane Fonda, Rose McGowan and Rosanna Arquette, there’s a hopeful note for change spurred by women empowered by the #MeToo movement to protect vulnerable film and TV performers from workplace exploitation.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Filmmaker and professor Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s documentary Body Parts is a fascinating look at the history and evolution of sex scenes in films. The documentary thoughtfully explores everything from the differences between nudity and sexuality in European and Hollywood movies to the use of (and undervaluing of) body doubles to the way visual effects are used to literally erase “flaws” or replace body parts in order to make actors’ bodies and faces look “perfect.” There’s even a chronicle of Jane Fonda’s career as an example of how sex scenes and women’s bodies are portrayed on screen as a representation of men’s fantasies and pleasure. One particularly impactful part of the documentary is brutally honest about the erasure of anything but thin, able-bodied, cis, and for the large part, White, bodies. “Exclusion is part of the story,” one interviewee says.
Liz Whittemore I remember the buzz when Halle Berry reportedly got a half-million-dollar payday when she bared her naked breasts in Swordfish. I thought she was a total badass for demanding more money. It felt like we’d seen a crack in Hollywood’s patriarchal foundation. Berry has since denied the payment, explaining that she was taking ownership of her body. Until then, audiences had become desensitized to women’s bodies as public currency. Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s documentary, Body Parts, is a revelatory education. Read full review
Title: Body Parts
Directors: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan
Release Date: February 3, 2023
Running Time: 86 minutes
Screenwriter: (Documentary) Kristy Guevara-Flanagan
Distribution Company: Shout! Studios
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Jamie Broadnax, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore
Other Movies Opening This Week
Edited by Jennifer Merin