The Amber Heard Case: The Issue of Female Nudity in Hollywood

Hollywood is one of society’s largest perpetrators of female objectification and hyper-sexualization in the media. As the pool of hopeful performers grows, so does a sense of precarity for actresses in particular. Pressure is frequently placed on female actors to take on roles that require them to engage in full or partial nudity and participate in sexual scenes. Refusal could mean losing a much needed job, or being slapped with a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

“I had … been told that if I wanted to be an actress, I had to be prepared to get my breasts out,” actress Anna McGahan states in a blogpost about her time in Hollywood. Nudity has become an expectation of women in Hollywood; almost more so than actual acting capabilities.

Unfortunately, Hollywood's coerciveness for nudity is still very commonplace.

Most recently, a lawsuit to the tune of $10 million has been filed against Amber Heard by the producers of London Fields for the editing and/or deletion of sex scenes and nudity. The claim highlights Heard’s “refusal to comply with contractual obligations.” In technical terms, these contractual obligations are known as nudity riders, which is the legal disclosure of the scenes and their production to the actors.

In the film industry, this is a frequent counterargument that stifles complaints from actresses in regards to concerns for personal health, general discomfort, and personal conflicts of interests. Production companies are capable of using nudity riders to contractually bind actors to certain kinds of “pre-agreed” nudity, citing it as a demonstration of the actress’ knowledge, and understanding of what they were going to be engaging in. It follows, then, that any conflict made post-agreement is in violation of the nudity rider, since the actress supposedly “knew what she was getting into from the get-go.” If the actress refuses to carry out their scenes, they are liable to be slapped with a hefty lawsuit, as is the case of Amber Heard.

The problem with contractual nudity in Hollywood is its stance as a catch-22 regarding female agency in the workplace. Actresses are placed in a situation where the decision to refuse sexual roles can result in a shortage of work, and their acceptance can lock them into precarious situations via legal contracts, which, if broken, act as a punishment.

This is a small part of a bigger problem of female agency and consent in the media. Women are consistently faced with the “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t” dynamic where they experience job discrimination for refusal, and severe punishment and red-tape for exercising their right to retract consent for participation. This is all too visible in the case of Amber Heard.  

Women deserve the right to feel secure in expressing their limitations within the workplace, without the threat of legal backlash or revenge lawsuits.