Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What About Actors Who Willingly Undress for the Camera?

Last week, we looked at Hollywood’s underground culture of sexual abuse: how actors are routinely coerced into violating their consciences by performing nude scenes and/or sex acts on screen. While audiences have grown comfortable with watching such scenes, actors are often uncomfortable (or worse) with filming them.

Isn’t it true, though, that some actors willingly undress for the camera? The simple answer is, of course, yes. But it’s an answer that requires at least two clarifications. And since women are the majority of the victims in these circumstances, we’ll focus on women for the rest of the article.

First, it’s not as easy as you might think to discern the difference between willing and unwilling performances. Take just one example (or, rather, an example in several parts) from recent history, all involving a “willing participant.”

Actress Margot Robbie recounts how her audition went for the movie The Wolf of Wall Street. She showed up for the audition in her usual look: jeans and a shirt. Scorsese’s casting director, Ellen Lewis, took one look at her and said, “No, no, no, what else do you have with you?” When Margot said she didn’t have anything else, Ellen made her rush out and purchase “the highest heels she could find, the tightest dress she could squeeze into, and a push-up bra.” Even though Margot never dresses like that, she followed Ellen’s orders.

The result, Margot said, was that her feet hurt and she thought that she “looked ridiculous.” When she finally walked into the audition room, her constant and overly self-conscious thought was, “Don’t trip, don’t trip.” (1) Instead of the expected excitement at meeting Scorsese and DiCaprio, all she could think about was the possibility of falling over and making a fool of herself.

Think about that for just a moment. Before even meeting Scorsese, Margot was turned into a sex object—contrary to everything that felt or seemed natural to her. Made to look “ridiculous” in dangerously high heels, and then paraded in front of a panel of men, Margot was forced into Hollywood’s standard “objectification mold” in order to even be considered for a role in the film.

Fast forward to the actual filming of the movie. In a pivotal seduction scene, Scorsese gave Margot the option of wearing a robe. She thought her character would choose to be nude, so that’s how they shot the scene. No discernable coercion was involved. Nevertheless, Margot had to consume three shots of tequila before she was finally ready. Her nerves wouldn’t let her do the scene without first being sedated.

In another description of risqué scenes involving her, Margot says, “It was nerve-wracking leading up to it, but we had a very limited amount of time to shoot those scenes. The sooner I got it done, the sooner I could put my clothes back on.” (2) Again, these scenes weren’t shot against her will. But when a person says, “The sooner we get this done, the better,” they’re not describing something they relish.

In each of the above circumstances, Margot Robbie willingly submitted to the demands of the filmmakers, even going beyond what was asked of her. She did what was necessary to impress the “god of the industry” (as she calls Scorsese). And yet, when you read between the lines, you quickly see that this young woman experienced a good amount of inner turmoil. Why? Because cultural expectations placed a burden on her shoulders that she shouldn’t have had to bear. Sure, she did the job, but it wasn’t something that came naturally or welcomingly or delightfully.

And what did she get out of it? A stronger Hollywood presence, for sure. But she also experienced the reduction of her humanity through the objectification of her body. While I researched this article, the first suggestion Google gave me for Margot Robbie was “Margot Robbie hot.” Or, just read any online discussion of Margot’s role in The Wolf of Wall Street, and you’ll quickly see how male audience members talk about her. (Hint: it’s the same way a ravished dog treats a piece of raw meat.) Yeah, people were blown away by her role in the film—but for the wrong reasons.

Considering Hollywood’s subculture of sexual manipulation, it’s hard to discern genuine willingness from mere acquiescence. How much freedom needs to be involved in order for an actor’s actions to be labeled “willing”? Is partially willing good enough? How can we as audience members tell when a nude or sex scene is forced, or heavily influenced, or completely free of compulsion? Without being on the film set ourselves and observing the goings on, can we know for sure that “no humans were harmed during the making of this film”? The answer is no.

For the sake of argument, let’s be generous and make the (unlikely) assumption that 50% of the nudity and sex Hollywood produces is performed freely, with no coercion whatsoever. That still means that 50% of actors are being forced, or at least pressured, into violating their consciences. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the idea that my hard earned money has a 50% chance of causing an actor mental, emotional, and spiritual harm. (And let’s be honest: the chances are much higher than 50%.)

That’s the first part of my nuanced answer to the argument that some actors do sex scenes willingly. Since this blog post is long enough already, we’ll look at the second part of my answer next week.

photo credit: brooksatwood via photopin cc (this photo has been cropped from its original format to achieve a more horizontal orientation)

(1) This article has a risqué picture, so instead of directly linking to it, I’m posting the url here for journalistic integrity (and so you can check my sources if you feel it’s absolutely necessary):  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/film/slapping-dicaprio-was-just-the-beginning-for-margo-robbie/article16265484/

(2) Ditto: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/10564466/Margot-Robbie-My-risque-sex-scenes-with-Leonardo-DiCaprio.html

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hollywood’s Secret Rape Culture

Several years ago, Kate Beckinsale was conned into signing a movie contract that required nudity—something she didn’t want to do. With her acting career in jeopardy, she found herself browbeaten by the director. “I was really disturbed and I was sobbing and begging,” she said. At long last, she gave in to intimidation and performed the nude scene, which made her feel “violated and horrible.” Afterwards, she secretly urinated in the director’s thermos in revenge.

In more recent history, one actress from the HBO show Game of Thrones mustered up the courage to refuse doing any more nude scenes. She is reported as saying that she wants to be known for her acting, not for her body parts. (It’s a sorry state of affairs that requires such a statement to be made in the first place.) When the show started, she didn’t have nearly enough clout to buck the system. A season of the show’s overwhelming popularity may have been what put her in a better position to bargain with the producers.

Would you believe me if I told you that stories like these are numerous? Sadly, it’s true. The amount of pressure and intimidation Hollywood places on actors—especially women—to undress for the camera is commonplace. It’s well known in the entertainment industry that if you want to make it as an actor, you won’t be taken seriously if you have qualms about taking your clothes off.

What finally opened my eyes to this culture of sexual abuse was Wayne A. Wilson’s book Worldly Amusements. In one chapter, he gives seven examples from media interviews of female actors who express reservations about getting naked, or at least make some reference to the pressure placed upon women to undress for the camera.

Wilson himself became aware of the issue after watching a movie in which the director had his own daughter perform sex acts on screen. The fact that a director would sacrifice his child’s dignity for the sake of a movie changed Wilson’s perspective. He now implements what he calls the “law of love” in his movie watching habits: he refuses to support films that sexually objectify or degrade actors. He now asks himself, “Would I approve if my sister [or wife or daughter] were asked to behave or expose herself in any way that undermined her purity?” (p. 112).

That is a question we would do well to ask ourselves. It’s a question that comes to the mind of Melissa Ortega, an acquaintance of mine with ties to the entertainment industry. She recently shared her experiences in a Facebook discussion:

I know how many of the women in these scenes (and probably men too, you just don’t hear from them) have talked about throwing up in the bathroom between scenes, crying, stressing out constantly, etc. So basically, I’m paying for that person to do that for me?    . . . . There are perhaps no handcuffs involved with these performers, but social constraints/expectations/demands/culture can be equally, if not more, powerful. And that’s the problem. I’ve lived in Hollywood. I’ve worked with prostitutes one on one. The line between the two worlds is thin. I know no other culture more willing to use people and throw them away.

The movers and shakers in Hollywood have acquired what seems to be an almost limitless amount of power to enforce the sexualization of actors. To cite another example: director Neil Marshall once commented on how he was pressured by an HBO executive to put more sex and nudity in an episode of Game of Thrones:

It was pretty surreal. I’d not done anything like that in my films before. But the weirdest part was when you have one of the exec producers leaning over your shoulder, going, “You can go full frontal, you know. This is television, you can do whatever you want! And do it! I urge you to do it.” So I was like, “Okay, well, if you—you’re the boss.”

A little later, he added:

This particular exec took me to one side and said, “Look, I represent the pervert side of the audience, okay? Everybody else is the serious drama side—I represent the perv side of the audience, and I’m saying I want full frontal nudity in this scene. So you go ahead and do it.”

Notice the implicit acknowledgement that the nudity had nothing to do with art—that it was designed solely for the satisfaction of a perverted audience base. The producer pushed his weight around, and the director (and everyone else) acquiesced. All of this to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

What gives entertainment executives the authority to force others into such compromising situations? What gives a producer the power to manipulate a director into catering to perverse fantasies? What gives a director the right to deceive an actress into agreeing to do more than she meant to? If your computer screen was a mirror, you would be looking at the answer.

You see, when average folks like you and me support films and TV shows like these, we are perpetuating the sexualized culture we say we deplore. My guess is that, because it’s often hard to see how “A” eventually leads to “X,” we think little of doing “A,” even if we abhor “X.” We may complain about the objectification of women (and men) in our culture. We may complain about how movies are ruined by sex scenes and gratuitous nudity. But if we then turn around and financially support that culture, something is askew.

As I’ve pointed out before, it doesn’t matter if you avert your eyes during sex scenes. At the end of the day, Hollywood counts ticket sales. Both prudes and perverts give equal support for a film when they buy a ticket (or a DVD). The truth is, if people stopped financially supporting the abuse of actors, the industry would change. But producers follow the money, and there’s money to be made through the objectification of entertainers.

Tinseltown is harming the consciences of actors, wreaking emotional and spiritual havoc on them—all so we can enjoy a couple hours of amusement. Hollywood has created its own (incredibly profitable) version of sex slavery, degrading actors as human beings.

And we’re funding the process with our own wallets.

photo credit: Ryan Coleman via photopin cc

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Part About Parenting I Didn’t Read In Any Parenting Book

I tend to be a fairly methodical person. When Shannon and I were dating, a close friend of mine asked her, “What does it feel like to have everything planned out three months in advance?” Yes, I’m one of those guys who likes to schedule his spontaneity.

And what does a methodical person do to prepare for parenthood? Why, read a small library of child training books, of course. (What a silly question.) After all, plenty of godly men and women have walked the path of parenting before us, so sitting down at their feet seemed like a no brainer.

To be sure, our reading proved enormously beneficial. We have discovered some great resources that we’ll return to in the years—heck, decades—to come. We’ve learned many wise principles and practices that will benefit our attempts at child training.

But after reading all those books, I decided to turn to the source of all that godly wisdom: the Bible itself. I wanted to compare the words of Scripture with the books we had read to see what was wheat and what was chaff.

While studying Scriptural passages on child training, I encountered a principle I hadn’t read before. Now, maybe there are books out there that have mentioned this principle and I just haven’t read them. I guess it’s even possible that the books we read did mention this principle and I just somehow missed it. Whatever the case, I was amazed that I hadn’t heard it before. I’m convinced it may be one of the most important tools in one’s parenting arsenal.

What is this hidden, or overlooked, parenting secret? Simply put: share your testimony with your children. This involves not just the story of how God brought you to saving faith, but also the countless instances where God delivered or strengthened or encouraged or provided for you.

The first several verses of Psalm 44 give us an example of how personal testimonies can affect the lives of future generations. This psalm is actually a lament (see the second half), but it begins with declarations of unwavering trust in the Lord, based largely on the writers’ knowledge of what “our fathers have told us” (v. 1). Stories from the “days of old” have led the sons of Korah to trust in God’s saving power and not their own strength.

Notice how often they point away from themselves and toward God: “the deeds You did” (v. 1), “You drove out” (v. 2), “Your hand” (v. 2), “You planted” (v. 2), “You afflicted” (v. 2), “Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance” (v. 3), “You favored them” (v. 3), “through You” (v. 5), “through Your name” (v. 5), “I will not trust in my bow, nor shall my sword save me” (v. 6), “You have saved us” (v. 7). A parent’s testimony is a powerful means of grace for children, because it points to tangible expressions of God’s faithfulness.

Sharing one’s testimony isn’t a burden or a chore. It is a privilege and a joy. As C. S. Lewis has pointed out, an enjoyment of something often isn’t complete until that enjoyment is shared. You know you really enjoyed a movie or a book when you tell everyone else about it. The telling itself is the consummation of your enjoyment.

Consequently, the writer of Psalm 71 begs God not to let him depart until he has had the opportunity to declare God’s strength and power to the next generation: “Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come” (Ps. 71:16-18).

Sharing stories of how God has worked in our lives is a great way to help our children see the manifold effects of the gospel. It helps them see how mercifully and graciously God treats us, even as we struggle with our own sins and inabilities to live up to His perfect standards. The design of this God-centered focus is so that our children may set their hope in God—not in their own ability to obey Him.

As Psalm 145:4 puts it, “One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.” Or, as commentator Adam Clarke exposits, “Thy creating and redeeming acts are recorded in thy word; but thy wondrous providential dealings with mankind must be handed down by tradition, from generation to generation; for they are in continual occurrence, and consequently innumerable.” The narrative of our stories involves innumerable instances of God’s saving and sanctifying work.

This practice of sharing our testimony needn’t be turned into a legalistic pursuit, as if it’s up to us to save our children. Rather, our testimony is simply the story of what God has done; instructing our children is no more a “work” than me telling my wife about my day at dinnertime. Our testimony is all about who God is, what He has done, and what He has promised to do. It is the overflow of past grace that points us all toward future grace.

For our children’s benefit—as well as our own—may we remember and recount God’s faithful deeds to our children. May we vividly paint a picture of our Father’s awesome wonders in action. May our stories draw the hearts of our children toward God’s loving embrace. May we delight in His wondrous works so that we relish each and every opportunity to share them. And may our sharing be the consummation of our own delight in the Treasure of our souls: God Himself.

photo credit: liquidnight via photopin cc