In 2014, we were all about that bass. But Lina Esco and her friends and supporters were thinking a bit more northern; they were all about that basic human right to bare nipples.
To moms who want to breastfeed without shame like, Alyssa Milano…
Wait! I don’t get it. No disrespect to Kim but… people are offended by my breastfeeding selfies & are fine with her (amazing) booty cover?
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) November 12, 2014
To funny ladies making a serious point like, Chelsea Handler.
And it’s all culminated with the release of Esco’s directorial feature debut, Free the Nipple. While the movie’s release may have come last, it’s actually been in the works since 2010, and has roots going further back.
“One of the people who inspired a lot of it is one of my best friends, Sarabeth Stroller,” Esco tells us. “When she was five months old, she got kicked out of a church because her mother was breastfeeding her.”
Inspired by Stroller’s experience and the experiences of other women, Esco committed to learning more about women’s long fight for equality and later decided it was a story she wanted to tell. After appearing in 2012’s LOL starring Miley Cyrus, Esco told the film’s director, Lisa Azuelos, her plan.
“I told her, ’I have an idea for this movie about women challenging the censorship laws in New York.’ She said, ’Whenever you finish the script, I want to finance the movie.’”
Azuelos was true to her word. Just months after Esco and her co-writer, Hunter Richards, completed their script, Azuelos had pulled together $1 million. But things weren’t so smooth after that.
“First, we were shooting in the fall and encountered Hurricane Sandy,” Esco says. “Then we were told we couldn’t shoot topless women because it seemed like we were shooting porn — even though we were permitted and it’s legal in New York.”
Since Esco was already being treated like an outlaw, she decided to go with it.
“I told the crew I’d decided to just not get permits, because they’re going to make us put pasties and strips around the nipples, so you guys are with me or you’re not. And a few of my team members left — they didn’t want to get arrested.”
Without permits and with the frontal freedom she’d intended, Esco and her crew shot their outdoor topless scenes in one shot, one take each.
“In the Times Square scene, you can see the actual cops pulling up at the end,” Esco says.
Despite what you might think, the film is meant to be much more than (pun intended) titillating.
“The nipple has become the trojan horse of equality for women. We’re not here to push our truths. This is an honest, fun film about feminists being passionate about what they believe in.”
Esco hopes this film and its surrounding movement normalizes the nipple and removes their scandalized perception, not just for equal opportunity nudity, but for equality in all its forms.
“It’s not about going topless, it’s about having the same rights. This is an equality issue,” she says. “We’re such a puritanical country and these roots are so engrained, it’s gonna take something big to make people realize they’re just boobs. As long as we can have a dialogue, there is hope.”
Learn more about Handler’s fight against censorship from The Gossip Table.