Exclusive: Director/Star Lina Esco 'Frees Her Nipple'
Lina Esco has had nipples on her mind for the better part of four years. The actress, director and activist behind the Free the Nipple movement – which became an internet sensation after celebrity fans including Cara Delavigne, Scout Willis, Chelsea Handler and Miley Cyrus voiced their support – first had an idea to turn the concept into a feature film in 2010. She was working on a movie called LOL in Detroit with Cyrus, a close friend who also recorded a song for the film’s soundtrack, and “the more I thought about it,” says Esco, “the bigger it became in my head.”
Directed by Esco (who also stars alongside Lola Kirke), Free the Nipple follows a group of feminist activists on a mission to decriminalize female nudity by staging topless protests in New York City. Milk Made caught up with Esco to chat about her directorial debut and why she believes all America really needs “is a big blast of boobies.”
For people who have been living under a rock, tell us a little about the Free the Nipple movement and how it evolved into a film.
It came about four years ago as an idea that I just started entertaining and the more I thought about it the bigger it got. I was working on a movie called LOL with Miley Cyrus in 2010 and we were shooting in Detroit and I said to the director, Lisa Azuelos, that I had an idea about making a movie called Free the Nipple about girls challenging the censorship laws and going topless for equality. She said, ‘okay, whenever you’re done with the script, I want to finance your film’ and I thought she was kidding. When I came back to LA I met up with a friend who is an amazing writer so we were hibernating for months writing the script and I was able to research more about women’s rights. I read up on all these amazing women, and the more I read, the more bothered I was about it all. From Phoenix Feeley, who got arrested on a New Jersey beach for going topless a few years ago, to Maura Johnston, I just started to educate myself more and more.
My best friend, who is the freest person I know, inspired me the most though. She was kicked out of the church when she was five years old because her mom was breastfeeding her and she made it her life’s mission to be free and not have anyone tell her what to do with her body. Then in 2011 I went to Occupy Wall Street and started testing the grounds with my friends by going topless. We had thousands of people all around us – it was like the second coming of The Beatles or something – everyone was going nuts and I was like, ‘okay, when you guys are done freaking out over boobs let me know so we can have a real dialogue’. To see the reactions to it made me realize I had to do the film.
What drove you to make a feature film rather than a documentary?
You know a lot of people have said to me, ‘oh I thought this was a documentary!’ but I grew up acting and I knew I wanted to direct in the future, but I knew I wanted to do a feature film that meant something to me. It had to be a feature, because that’s what I know and I wanted to create it all from scratch. I like the whole magic of the cinema.
What about casting Lola Kirke – did you know she was perfect for the role of Liv when you met her?
It was such a long casting process in terms of finding Liv because I knew that what would carry the movie was the chemistry between our two characters. I didn’t care if they knew how to act or not, honestly – it was more about their connection. When I first started talking to Lola on Skype, she hadn’t even auditioned but I just knew instinctively. We started talking, then she started laughing, then I started laughing and I just knew. It’s funny how when you’re so connected to somebody you can bring the best out in each other.
What are your hopes for the movie – what do you want the discussion around it to be?
I think the movie should be the new celebrity. I want people to be like, ‘oh okay we get it!’ This guy I did this interview with the other week goes to me, ‘well if you’re topless, I can’t help but look at them as a sexual thing’. So I said to him, ‘right, but if I’m standing here at dinner and I don’t have a top on and we’re talking for hours and hours, eventually you’re going to get sick of looking at them’ and maybe that’s what America needs –a big blast of boobies to get over this. We sexualize them so much, there’s so much money behind covering the areola that now the areolas are like, ‘let me out!’ It’s supposed to be fun and the whole purpose of the film and movement is to open a dialogue and change hearts and minds and inspire them too. It’s ridiculous that there are so many laws are against women’s bodies. You know, in the early 1900s men were getting arrested for going topless and it wasn’t until 1934, when four guys from Coney Island disputed the law, that men have that right. That doesn’t mean that guys are running around topless all the time, but they have that right. This is thing – the nipple has become the symbol of the oppression of women and it’s about inequality. It’s 2015! Hopefully, people will reevaluate all this stuff because times need to change, and this puritanical way of thinking needs to change. What gives me hope is when I get messages from kids who get it and think all these old rules are ridiculous. It’s time.
What about the song Miley recorded for the film – how did that come about?
One of my favorite songs is ‘Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma’ by Melanie Safkas. I played it nonstop during the conception of the movie and it has always inspired me as an artist. Then in the summer, Miley and I were hanging out and I showed her the film and that song was the end credit and I was like, ‘why don’t you cover it?’ so she did!
What’s next for you?
I don’t know! It’s been such a humbling process, making this film. It’s been four years of ups and downs so right now, I just want to stay in the present and enjoy it. I might be acting, I might be directing but I’m up for anything.
Free the Nipple is now in theaters and on VOD