June 21, 2023 - 1:25pm

In contrast to her famous father, Lily-Rose Depp will not be earning her stripes in the independent film leagues. With one or two elegant European indies under her belt, she moved into blockbuster-supporting roles, before signing on as the main character of HBO’s multi-million-dollar, star-studded new series, The Idol

From “the sick and twisted minds” (as they bill themselves) of Sam Levinson, creator of the smash hit TV series Euphoria, and triple-platinum-selling artist The Weeknd (otherwise known as Abel Tesfaye), The Idol follows a popstar victim in the Britney Spears mould. Jocelyn, the character played by Depp, has just suffered a public breakdown and is in the process of staging a comeback. In her vulnerable state, she falls under the influence of a dubious nightclub owner and cult leader, Tedros, played by Tesfaye. 

Littered with gratuitous violence and graphic nudity, the series has been widely panned. It’s not hard to see why. In one scene, Depp’s character, frail-looking and thin, is trussed up in lingerie, sobbing for her dead mother, while bleeding from cuts on her inner thighs. Around her is a huge crowd of music industry professionals either rolling their eyes or roundly telling her to pull it together. It is testament to Depp’s acting that the moment is genuinely upsetting to watch. The problem is that there is no exploration of this sadness or the wider exploitation that is pervasive in Hollywood. There is just more of the same. 

Why did Depp choose to appear in a show that kept her virtually naked the entire time and placed her in one degrading scene after another? Unfortunately, the actress is the latest in a long line of women presented with tighter close-ups, weirder outfits and more full-frontal. The new narrative that nudity equals empowerment is yet another absurd justification — which used to hinge on sin and shame — that results in women dressing and undressing for the male gaze. 

Under such circumstances, the pressure for women to take off their clothes is no different from the stricture they were originally trying to escape, when religious and social views required them to cover up. From the “divinely mandated” order of the Middle Ages, which birthed sumptuary laws controlling the colour, fabric and cut of garments, to Victorian-era corsets, women have been made to comply with a social code that has nothing to do with their comfort or wellbeing. 

In The Idol, there’s the tacit implication that to exist in the entertainment industry, either as a singer like Jocelyn, or an actor like Depp, this level of nudity is mandatory. What we are watching is the creators’ fantasy come to life at the expense of the woman involved. 

The treatment of women as bodies for consumption has long been fought against by radical feminists such as Andrea Dworkin, who wrote, Every social form of hierarchy and abuse is modelled on male-over-female domination.” While feminists who dare to criticise the Left have been subject to a smear campaign in recent years, their strong opposition to objectification may be what we need now. Especially with shows like The Idol, where the original female director left and her (allegedly more feminist) footage was reshot. 

In ancient mythologies and folklore, it is often by concealing her body that a woman can protect herself, gain the upper hand, and manifest power. Female instinct, a connection to nature, and the ability to seduce used to be called “feminine charms” and “feminine wiles”, but really this is a now discredited gendered power, considered outmoded, and no longer socially acceptable. Yet without the option of concealment, women have no tools with which to fight back against exploitation. There is nothing left to show. 

Revealing it all has become the tell-tale symptom of a modern malaise. With the advent of social media, public life has become a performative arena where bodies are leveraged for likes and personal traumas are repackaged to get attention. Being naked for the masses is a natural progression in this sense. But stripping everything off under a spotlight drains away the potential for mystery and true sensuality, along with a woman’s agency.

Nina-Sophia Miralles is the editorial director of culture magazine LONDNR, and the author of Glossy: The Inside Story of Vogue