If a Movie Includes Coerced Nudity, Who’s to Blame?

Whenever an actor shares the shame and humiliation of being bullied into undressing or sexually acting out for the camera, there are a plethora of responses from armchair critics. Since I write about this topic often, I’ve seen a lot of these responses, many of which can often lean toward the shame-based end of the spectrum:

  • “It’s her fault for not telling the director ‘no.’”
  • “What did she expect, working with a bunch of perverts?”
  • “She’s complaining now, but did she complain about the paycheck she received?”
  • “If you don’t like the mud don’t roll around with the pigs!”

For consumers far removed from the goings on of a film set, it’s easy to simplify matters so as to lay the blame at the actress’ feet, as if the most appropriate summation is, “She shouldn’t have done that.” The reality, however, is more complex, and Scripture can help us better navigate this complexity.

Consider for example the story of Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar (see Genesis 38). Childless, and after the loss of two husbands, Tamar finds Judah disinterested in providing her with another husband (as was his obligation). In response to his dereliction, Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute and tricks him into getting her pregnant. When her pregnancy is discovered, Judah declares she should die because of her immorality. But when she provides proof that Judah is the father, he confesses his guilt in the matter, saying, “[Tamar] has been more righteous than I” (verse 26). Judah’s statement is not a denial of Tamar’s culpability; it is merely an acknowledgement that, as the authority figure in the relationship, his error and blame are greater than hers.

Or consider the story of Esther, who chose to sleep with King Xerxes at his command rather than refuse him and risk retribution (see Esther 2:12-14). Unlike Queen Vashti before her, who rejected the king’s command to objectify herself in front of a crowd (see Esther 1), Esther allows the king to treat her as a sexual object in his own chambers. For whatever reason, the Biblical narrative never comments on Esther’s failure to take a stand for sexual purity. This may be because of the inherently coercive nature of the situation. In any case, the writer of the book of Esther, under divine inspiration, refrains from making a moral judgement on Esther’s choices.

In the New Testament, we have the story of the woman caught in adultery (see John 8). The Pharisees present her to Jesus to see if he will condemn her immorality. Their hypocrisy is shamelessly blatant: if the woman was caught, so was the man, and yet the man is nowhere to be found. Jesus refuses to play along with their charade, choosing rather to address other factors that make the Pharisees leave the scene altogether. Only after the manipulative authority figures have been dealt with does Jesus directly, and tenderly, address the guilty woman.

As the above stories illustrate, the various threads of sin, culpability, and abuse of authority weave a complex tapestry that defies simple explanation. And to help tease this idea out, I recently wrote a piece for The Christian Post on this topic, focusing specifically on an experience of actress Salma Hayek early in her career:

[I]gnoring the blatantly coercive actions of the authority figures in this situation gives the appearance, if not the reality, of victim blaming. We can blame actresses all day long for caving in to pressure. They are, after all, moral agents just like the rest of us, culpable for their actions. Nevertheless, we fail to mirror our savior’s heart for undeserving sinners when we refuse to even acknowledge the amount of coercion, threats, and bullying actors experience to sexualize themselves for the camera.

In many cases, it’s not always as simple as an actress just saying, “No.” The sooner we can acknowledge that, the better.

You can read the entire piece by clicking this link.

Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash (cropped)