N is for Nudity [NSFW] #AtoZChallenge

As I researched this topic, I was very surprised to learn that the topic of nudity was also a controversial topic in cartoons. Some interesting information on that topic can be found here.


Nudity in film, as distinguished from sex in film, is any presentation in films that includes at least one person who is nude or wearing less clothing than contemporary norms consider modest. As much as the debate over how and when nudity should appear in films is a contemporary issue, the truth is that concern over nudity in the movies has existed since the development of the medium, and most nude scenes in films have had to be justified as being part of the story, in the concept of “artistically justifiable nudity”.

Until the establishment of the Hays Code in 1934, there was no overriding standard for decency in the movie industry. Historically, however, the Hays Code came too late. Many milestones in cinematic sexuality had already been reached long before Hays managed to ban nudity and sexual acts on film. Here are some of the more shocking or salacious movies which made it into production before the Code cracked down on pretty much everything!

Inspiration (1915)

Audrey Munson, who was a real life sculptor’s model and the inspiration for over 15 statues in New York City, as well as the model for the Columbia Pictures logo statue, stars as an artist’s model who inspires a young sculptor. The film is believed to be the first American motion picture with a leading actress in a nude scene. Munson appeared nude again in a similar role in the 1916 film Purity. A feature of these films was that Munson was a ‘tableau vivant’, not being required to move, and only her backside was in view. Both films were approved for public exhibition because the nudity in them was considered artistic and non-erotic. Censors feared if they banned the films, they would have to ban Renaissance art as well. No copy of the films is known to still exist.

A Daughter of the Gods (1916)

Annette Kellerman, an actress and Australian swimming star already notorious for promoting the scandalous one-piece bathing suit, became the first major female star to appear nude on film. Annette plays the titular daughter of the gods and scandalously bares it all in a waterfall sequence (shown in the screenshot below). Though shot from the front, most of her nudity was covered by her long hair. The film was a major production and one of the first US movie productions to cost $1 million to make. As with so many movies from that time, this movie is now considered lost.

Hula (1927)

Clara Bow, in one of the last silent movies she made before moving to talkies, plays “Hula” Calhoun, the pampered daughter of a plantation owner who falls for a married man who saves her from a runaway horse. The fact that he’s married doesn’t stop her from trying to seduce him by performing a sexy hula dance for him. However, the character wearing trousers and seducing a married man wasn’t what caused the scandal in this film. The biggest problem for censors was caused by a scene at the start of the movie where she swims naked.

Glorifying the American Girl (1929)

A rags-to-riches story about an aspiring performer in New York City, this film features the first colorized on-screen nudity. In a revue section towards the end of the film that recreates a performance by the Ziegfield Follies, the camera focuses on a nearly-nude Adonis (played by Johnny Weissmuller, who would go on to play Tarzan) and a choir girl.

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

The second of the Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan is considered by most film historians as the best of the five Tarzan movies the couple made together. The film deals directly with the obvious sexuality between Tarzan and Jane. It also includes a three-minute underwater scene where O’Sullivan swims nude with Weissmuller. Released before the implementation of the Hays Code, the nudity and theme of sexuality is missing from the next three Tarzan movies.

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6 thoughts on “N is for Nudity [NSFW] #AtoZChallenge

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. And yet there were other films that had to cut such “provocative” scenes as a woman running her hand up her leg putting on stockings, showing a shoulder, posing in a seductive manner, etc. Notice that all of this had to do with a woman’s actions, not a man’s.

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