The recently released second series of Euphoria has not only broken HBO Max’s audience numbers with each new episode, it has also shown once again that it is able to provoke all sorts of public debate. The latest issue has been spearheaded by actress Sidney Sweeney, who plays Cassie, one of the most complex and talked-about figures in fiction. The 24-year-old actress has used the response to her many sex scenes in the series to call out the antiquated prejudices that still exist in Hollywood when it comes to female nudity. “When a guy has a sex scene or shows his body, he still wins awards and gets praise. But the moment a girl does it, it’s completely different,” she told The Independent, explaining there’s “a stigma against actresses who get naked on screen.” This complaint has reopened debate on the sexist dynamics of the entertainment industry and the typecasting faced by actresses who take their clothes off on camera – a problem that has become even more entrenched in today’s digital world.
In the interview with The Independent, Sydney Sweeney, who is one of the biggest upcoming stars in Hollywood, complained that her own work in the show was overshadowed by the response to her sex scenes. “I’m very proud of my work in Euphoria. I thought it was a great performance. But no one talks about it because I got naked,” said Sweeney, who has at last found recognition with her performance in the critically acclaimed series The White Lotus. “I do The White Lotus and all of a sudden critics are paying attention. People are loving me. They’re going, ‘Oh my God, what’s she doing next?’ I was like, ‘Did you not see that in Euphoria? Did you not see that in The Handmaid’s Tale?’”
The list of actresses who have regretted appearing nude on screen is as long as Hollywood is big. The list includes Helen Mirren, Sharon Stone, Eva Green and Nicole Kidman, who said she felt “humiliated and devastated” during the shooting of the show Big Little Lies. Mary-Louise Parker also admitted that she regretted appearing topless in the series Weeds, saying: “I knew it was going to be on the internet: ‘Mary Louise shows off her big nipples.’ I wish I hadn’t done that.” Even Kate Winslet, who appeared in one of the most memorable nude scenes in cinema in Titanic, questioned the scene and blamed her decision to do it on “youth and insecurity.” Natalie Portman, meanwhile, refused to do any more nude scenes following the media scandal over her nude scene in the movie Hotel Chevalier. “It really depresses me [..] [that] literally half of any article or review about it has been about the nudity,” she told The Guardian. Megan Fox has similarly ruled out doing any more nude scenes, pointing out that the images live “forever, especially now, with the internet.” While Keira Knightley has said she is no longer willing to do nude or sex scenes with a male director, explaining she feels “very uncomfortable trying to portray the male gaze.”
In the case of Sydney Sweeney, the Washington-born actress says she should have been more aware during the shooting of the nude scenes in the second series of Euphoria. And she has reason to be wary. A quick Google search of her character Cassie brings up hundreds of web pages that show frame by frame the scenes in which Sweeney has appeared naked. But the actress has no harsh words for Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, who she says never tried to push her to film a nude scene against her will. “There are moments where Cassie was supposed to be shirtless and I would tell Sam, ‘I don’t really think that’s necessary here.’ He was like, ‘OK, we don’t need it’,” she told The Independent.
So is it true, as Sweeney argues, that there is a double standard when it comes to how men are judged for appearing nude? It’s a difficult question to answer given so few well-known actors have agreed to appear nude on screen. And when it does happen, in the case of Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant or Michael Fassbender in Shame, erotic websites – which are typically sexist – don’t even bother to upload their scenes. In the last few decades, only stars like Halle Berry and Kate Winslet have been awarded Oscars (for Monster’s Ball and The Reader respectively) after appearing in nude scenes. When it comes to the opposite sex, this award season could mark a before and after given that two nominees Benedict Cumberbatch and Bradley Cooper appear naked in The Power of the Dog and Nightmare Alley, respectively.
In television, the number of male nude scenes has increased dramatically in the past few months thanks to streaming services, which have more creative freedom than mainstream stations and are less dependent on the approval of advertisers. This is demonstrated by Paul Mescal in Normal People, Oscar Isaac in Scenes From a Marriage, Steve Zahn in The White Lotus, Ansel Pierce in Euphoria and Sebastian Stan, who talks to a prosthetic penis in Pam & Tommy. The trend is so great that the media is calling it a “golden age” for male nudity in Hollywood. According to Ellen Gamerman, from The Wall Street Journal: “[Male nude scenes] represent a cosmic rebalancing of the scales as the entertainment industry tries to tackle its sexism.”
Euphoria has not only taken up the baton from Game of Thrones as the most talked about and celebrated series on HBO, it has also reopened debate on the hypersexualization of women, which was the subject of many articles when the show – based on George R.R. Martin’s books – was running. One of the biggest controversies concerned Emilia Clarke, who played Daenerys Targaryen, and appeared without clothes in a number of episodes in the first season. The British actress said that no agreement on nudity was included in her contract, and that she was pressured to perform the “terrifying” scenes. “I’ve had fights on set before where I’m like, ‘No, the sheet stays up,’ and they’re like, ‘You don’t wanna disappoint your Game of Thrones fans.’ And I’m like, ‘Fuck you’,” she said on Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert.
The controversy over the pointless nudity on Game of Thrones continued until the female nude scenes disappeared nearly entirely in the later series. For Carice Van Houten, who played Melisandre of the show, the reason why there were fewer scenes was due to social movements like the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and the “mood change” in the industry with respect to nudity. Spanish actress Natalia Tena, who played Osha, said that it was “really unfair” that all the actresses on Game of Thrones “has had her tits out,” and called for men to appear nude: “Let’s make it more even.”
For Emilia Clarke, the response to her nude scenes was so great that the actress, fearing that she would be pigeonholed, decided to reject the lead role in Fifty Shades of Grey. “The last time that I was naked on camera on [Game of Thrones] was a long time ago, and yet it is the only question that I ever get asked because I am a woman,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. ”And it’s annoying as hell and I’m sick and tired of it because I did it for the character – I didn’t do it so some guy could check out my tits, for God’s sake.”