Are filmmakers finally normalising full frontal male nudity?

Hanna Flint
Contributor
Pain And Glory sees a male character in the nude (Credit: Pathe)

When it comes to nudity in film and TV we all know how the scales tip; for every hundred boobs you see on screen you might chance upon a singular penis.

Back in 2016, the Annual Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California found that Hollywood movies were three times as likely to show nude or partially nude women as they were men. Thanks to the website Mr Skin we know that in the 108 minutes of nudity from Game of Thrones, viewers caught a glimpse of 134 breasts, 60 bottoms, 28 vaginas and just seven penises.

The ratios are not good, or balanced, but it’s contributed to how much society has been desensitised to the naked female form. That’s not to say there haven’t been films depicting full frontal penises over the last fifty years or so, but we’re so used to seeing women exposed onscreen that it’s never much of a shock when a rogue boob or vagina comes into shot.

When a man’s private parts are in focus, however, it often sends the world mad.

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Just Google “Outlaw King penis” and you’ll find that the first two stories are articles telling you exactly when you can see Chris Pine’s member in Netflix’s historical drama while the third gives an actual review of it.

“People were giggling about my penis as if they were school children,” Pine said about the reaction to his nudity. “I think it’s maybe the dying embers of this Calvinistic idea that self-flagellating and shame and anger and violence is all good and yet sex and intimacy, making love is bad. And that manifests in us all giggling about a penis – it’s so stupid.”

Jack Reynor strips off in Midsommar (Credit: A24)

It is stupid but the extreme reaction is probably not as much about viewers being awkward about “sex and intimacy”, because no one was writing reviews of Sally Hawkins’ muff in The Shape of Water or Rosario Dawson’s vag in Trance either.

It’s because this weird double standard continues to exist whereby female nudity is considered the norm but male nudity is seen as more of a novelty because a penis pops up so sporadically.

Fortunately, over the last 12 months, there’s been an indication that the tides are a-changing and the destigmatisation of the d*** might soon take effect.

Last year, movies like Roma, Suspiria, The Happy Prince, Border and Hereditary included full frontal male nudity that wasn’t played for laughs. The latter film’s director, Ari Aster, continues this trend with his second feature Midsommar, as he delivers one of its lead male stars, Jack Reynor, as well as several women, in a state of undress.

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“There are so many films in the history of cinema, particularly in the horror genre - I watch a lot of this stuff, and I notice there’s a pervasive culture of really difficult and humiliating and expositional scenes of murder and sexual violence towards women and you don’t really see that kind of stuff in films where it happens to men,” Reynor told The Wrap.

“I think it’s an interesting kind of flipping on its head of this, [as it’s] a male character suffering through a very kind of humiliating sequence of his fate,” he added. “It’s very expositional and that’s why I wanted to make sure there was as much full frontal as we could go for.”

Pedro Almodóvar’s self-reflective drama Pain And Glory, starring Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas and in cinemas from August 23, not only left the filmmaker “emotionally naked,” by telling the melancholic story of an ageing Spanish filmmaker like himself but, also left one of its male characters naked too.

Almodóvar is no stranger to focusing on the naked form and has included it in several films since the release of his directorial debut Pepi, Luci, Bom in 1980.

“In my first movie I had a closeup of a very erect penis,’ he said in 2013. “but I had to take it out because people weren’t accustomed to seeing it.”

That says a lot about the time given that European films have always been less prudish about nudity compared to the UK and US, but nowadays the small screen seems to be leading the charge and HBO is at the front.

The Leftovers, High Maintenance and Westworld don’t shy away from full frontal and its latest series Euphoria infamously features several instances of both the erect and flaccid male form.

Male nudity in Euphoria caused quite the stir (Credit: HBO)

The idea of 30 penises certainly set media tongues wagging about the teen-focused series but the scene wasn’t as sordid as all that. Rather, it served as a realistic reflection of what a male locker room looks like and why the character Nate is affected by it.

"He hated how casual his teammates were about being naked,” Zendaya’s Rue says in a voiceover. “How they'd talk to him with their dicks hanging out. He made a concerted effort to always maintain eye contact during those exchanges."

Nate’s daddy issues aside, this moment is a fair representation of the culture that wants us to treat our bodies as though they are something to be scared of rather than something beautiful and natural that we should accept. There will always be people who frown upon this sort of thing, but that’s what the ratings are for and these shows are not made for children. It’s 2019 and adults should be able to look at the naked male body with as much ease as they view the female form.

We’re not quite there yet and TV and film haven’t quite secured gender parity on this front, but it’s good to see full frontal is fast becoming an equal opportunity imperative.

Midsommar is in cinemas on Friday 5 July, Pain And Glory is in cinemas from 23 August.