Can nudity crack Hollywood's double standard?

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  • RaVal Davis: "Insecure" and "Girls Trip" call out institutional barriers that women face
  • Both films are evening out the playing field by putting more naked men on our screens, writes Davis

RaVal Davis is an entertainment writer, actress, and advocate for body positivity. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.

(CNN)With nearly all-black, female-led casts, both HBO's "Insecure" and feature film "Girls Trip" are clearly breaking all types of color and gender barriers. But it's what's happening behind the scenes that is changing the game on a more interesting frontier. Female writers like "Insecure's" Issa Rae and Erica Rivinoja and Tracy Oliver of "Girls Trip," are leveling the playing field when it comes to male and female nudity, by putting more naked men on our screens. It's just what Hollywood needs.

For far too long, naked women have become such a staple in TV and film that it's hard to notice, much less quantify, the inequality unfolding right before our eyes. But a recent study from Mount Saint Mary's University did just that and found that actresses are almost three times as likely as their male counterparts to be required to strip to their unmentionables.
    RaVal Davis
    Undoubtedly, female nudity has become an accomplice to get viewers through bad plotlines and awkward acting. And sometimes it's just the cherry atop the box office sundae. But why is female nudity so much more ubiquitous than male nudity? And what does this say about the role of women in the world?
    According to a 2005 University of Pennsylvania study, 57% of US teenagers, ages 14 to 16, identified television, film and other media as the primary source of information about sex and gender. In a post-#ImWithHer era, are we really still OK with such widespread and normalized objectification of the female body?
    But it's not only an issue for the viewer. It's an even larger issue for the actress being asked to display her body. As a new actress trying my best to break into episodic television, I have to admit I cringe every time I read those typical female character breakdowns. You know the ones: The waitress in the club who has no more than five lines but happens to have sex with the main male character. She's totally inconsequential to the plot but helps move the episode along somehow. And, of course, NUDITY REQUIRED or MUST BE OK WITH NUDITY is bolded at the bottom of the script. It's degrading but seemingly sometimes a necessary evil for actresses to make their way above the five-line mark.
    Often actresses who opt out of nudity and sex scenes can take a career hit. An up-and-coming actress and friend, who asked me not to use her name, recently told me that her storyline got killed on a popular cable series when she refused to agree to an onscreen sexual relationship with a main character. As a result, her multiple show appearances from the previous season got cut down to only one.
    Even for big-name actresses, nudity often proves to be a point of contention. Former star of "The O.C." Rachel Bilson almost lost out on a major movie role in "The Last Kiss" because of her strong stance against film nudity, but managed to persuade film executives that nude scenes were excessive.
    Emmy Rossum, star of the Showtime series "Shameless," told The Hollywood Reporter's Emmy contender roundtables that she was once required to come to a director's office in her bikini. "My agent called me and was like, 'I'm so embarrassed to make this call, but there's a big movie and they're going to offer it to you. They really love your work on the show. But the director wants you to come into his office in a bikini. There's no audition. That's all you have to do."
    But with HBO's "Insecure," creator Rae isn't hiding the fact that she's pushing for change on the second season of the show.
    "I'm just being a red-blooded woman and [I know] what I want to see in watching a television show; it's d***s and ass," she said. "I always notice ... why is this woman completely naked and he still has his pants on or his shirt on?"
    It's certainly not a question viewers will be asking while they watch "Girls Trip." The film, which is, laugh out loud, fall down and roll on the floor funny, draws direct comparisons to "The Hangover." But instead of seeing topless and bikini-clad women, we see Kofi Siriboe in all his chocolate glory.
    Even more interesting, most of the male characters' storylines in the film exist in relationship to only one of the four women, which left plenty of screen time for most of the females to discuss money troubles, past woes that fractured their friendships and the importance of sisterhood. How's that for changing the paradigm and passing the Bechdel test: a simple test that asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. This probably wouldn't have been the case if two out of the three writers for "Girls Trip" weren't women.
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    Although it may seem like advocating for more male nudity would make men feel just as objectified as women, "Insecure" and "Girls Trip" call out important institutional barriers that women in particular face. The way Hollywood works, if a male actor doesn't want to do nudity, there are still an array of other roles out there for him. But refusing nudity for actresses can still mean unemployment.
    So, seeing more men in the buff on screen isn't just a matter of eye candy, it's also about helping change the unfair challenge that my friend and many other actresses have faced while trying to land their big break. It's about actresses not having to use their naked bodies as resumes and being able to engage in more multidimensional roles. Viewers will see exactly that in "Insecure" and "Girls Trip."