“Free the nipple” (exclusive trailer below) has been a catchphrase of sorts for feminists who take issue with the fact that it’s illegal for women to go topless in so many states—but not men. And that catchphrase is the title of a movie, coming out in December and directed by Lina Esco.
Esco and Cyrus were working on 2012’s LOL together when Esco came up with the idea to make a movie about women challenging censorship laws. That idea eventually became a reality.
“I’ve always questioned the fact that women are not equal to men and that really bothered me,” Esco, who also stars in Free the Nipple, tells EW. “It’s not about going topless, it’s about equality.”
Although IFC ended up buying the film, it wasn’t an easy road to getting Free the Nipple in theaters thanks to its controversial message. “This journalist once asked me, ‘Why are you making a movie called Free the Nipple and why are you going topless to prove a point about equality?'” Esco says. “I said, if I would have made a movie called Equality, and no one was going topless, nobody would be talking about it.” That shut the reporter up.
Esco shot the film, which also stars Gone Girl’s Lola Kirke, in New York City, partly because it’s what she calls her second home, and partly because it’s legal to go topless in the city—kind of.
Esco and her crew got permits to shoot on Wall Street, but once she yelled “Action!” and the actresses went topless, a cop interrupted. “He’s like, ‘You can’t shoot with topless girls because it can seem like you’re shooting porn to passersby.’ So I’m like, ‘That’s really unfair.'” Esco ended up obeying the cop, and got her uncensored, topless shots at a later date (sans permits).
As with any cause, some people argue there are bigger issues to focus on. But this is Esco’s passion project at the moment, and she’s happy with that. “There’s a power in women when they go topless and they own their bodies and they don’t see any shame in it,” she says.
But even though Esco has spent her own time going topless for equality in hopes that her grand statement will further change, she doesn’t expect every single woman to join her in her shirtless crusade. “This is about doing something we feel passionate about, and if people want to join us? Great,” she says. “If they don’t, that’s okay too.”
Free the Nipple comes out Dec. 12. Watch the exclusive trailer above.