Tackling Inequality Through Film: Interview with Director Jessica Dorsky

Filmmaker Jessica Dorsky has taken on intersectional feminism in an industry that has increasingly been under scrutiny for its gender discrimination. “I want the media to be a healthier place for women,” she told me. “I think film is a great tool for making change.”

Jessica’s stance was that equal representation in film is a matter of human rights. “The idea of owning and controlling women’s bodies is unfortunately prevalent in the laws and attitudes of our society,” she said. Inspired by the Free the Nipple Movement, Jessica directed the documentary, Our Censored Bodies, conceptualized in collaboration with two British filmmakers, Jess Hart and Rebecca Gordon.

The film showcased a range of perspectives around modesty, highlighting the unequal standards that women face, both in public and online. The documentary centered around the censorship of women’s nipples.

 “A big part of feminism is that it’s all about choice,” Jessica explained. “You should never feel pressured to expose or not expose, to wear or not wear anything; it’s up to you.”

Jessica compared the restriction of a woman’s right to choose to expose her chest, in a situation where a man could freely, to the restriction of a woman’s health and reproductive rights.

Our Censored Bodies explored various ideas around censorship and human rights. It addressed gender inequality with a public stunt, following a woman and a man walking topless, side-by-side through many of the iconic parts of London, including Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and the National Gallery. “We explored the reactions to that as it happened,” Jessica said.

During the stunt, onlookers had extreme responses, she noted. One security guard in front of the National Gallery asked the group to leave, citing that the woman’s nipples were making people uncomfortable. “I mean I could stare at them all day long,” he nevertheless remarked, as the film crew packed up their equipment and left.

Another security guard threatened their arrest. “Is this because she’s a woman?” Jessica asked on film. The guard said yes. “It’s interesting how if it were two men shirtless,” she pointed out, “no one would care. That was kind of what we were trying to get at, like, what makes this different… why, because she’s a woman, are you so disturbed by her body?”

Jessica emphasized how this physical discrimination spoke to larger cultural inequalities and the resulting power structures that enable gender-based violence, not only in the UK but worldwide.

I think that creators of media have a huge responsibility to be aware of the power of what they’re creating.

Jessica Dorsky

In addition to raising questions on discrimination, Jessica told me that the film deepened her understanding of intersectional feminism. “My favorite conversation was with a few young  Muslim people who were watching as we were shooting the stunt,” she said. “I went up to them to ask for their reaction, and we talked about modesty, about being in public spaces, and being respectful. They said that they were equally as upset by the man flaunting his body nakedly in public as they were by the woman.” 

Content warning: sexual violence discussed

Asked what media inspired her, Jessica responded, Broad City and The Handmaid’s Tale. But, she told me, season two of The Handmaid’s Tale had an episode (10) with a four-minute rape scene. “To see this content in an otherwise inspirational, groundbreaking, forward-thinking show was shocking,” and it encouraged her to think proactively about the impact of her own work and about what types of projects to take on. “I think that the creators of media have a huge responsibility to be aware of the power of what they’re creating.”

Jessica Dorsky is a feminist filmmaker striving to make a positive difference in the entertainment industry. She worked as Assistant to Executive Producers on the Hulu series, Dollface, and previously as a production assistant on Ava DuVernay’s Netflix Original, When They See Us. You can see more of her work here.

Annie Rubin

Annie proudly knows all the lyrics to Joni Mitchell's album Blue. When she's not writing, you can find her reading about intersectionality, drinking Lorelai-Gilmore-levels of coffee, and exploring the world.

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