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by Nina-Sophia Miralles
Wednesday, 21
June 2023
Review
13:25

The Idol’s objectification of Lily-Rose Depp isn’t empowering

The HBO show's use of nudity is strikingly regressive
by Nina-Sophia Miralles
Lily-Rose Depp in The Idol. Credit: HBO

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. 


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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.

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Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
3 months ago

I would suggest that societies that really regulate what women wear (Iran, the Taleban etc. the other usual suspects ) are repressing them the most. So, those that don’t are repressing them the least, at least with regard to appearance.
As a wealthy young woman, Ms Depp has no economic need to take this role. So she’s chosen to do so without being ‘oppressed’ or whatever by circumstances.
Why would she do so? Anyone’s guess. She might enjoy the fun, the notoriety, the fame, the attention. Look at her dad; apples regardless of gender don’t fall far from the tree.
There’s a whole lot of ‘feminist’ fluff talked about this subject. In the west, women can wear what they want. They are in this sense free. With freedom comes responsibility for the choices you make. It’s pitiful to constantly see responsibility for female choices being foisted on men (male gaze, patriarchy blah blah)with quite such monotonous regularity. Such articles are almost without exception written by women, and attempting to circumscribe by reference to some ‘feminist’ or other what women should do.
The main thing I take away from this is that if men stop oppressing women, women will jump right in and fill the space. At least with men the rules are usually clear and don’t veer here and there with the vagaries of fashion.

Karen Fleming
Karen Fleming
3 months ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Seb- you are SO right!!! Time for women to own what they DO and for other women to acknowledge it. I too am tired of the same old blah blah blah. Once we require responsibility maybe self respect will follow.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
3 months ago
Reply to  Karen Fleming

And check out the long list of producers and executive producers on some of these movies. Lots of women appear these days.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
3 months ago

Whilst my initial reason for reading this article on Depp (the daughter) was based upon my dislike of anything her father has done to see if she was simply trying to emulate him, there’s a more serious message than the usual “cult of celebrity” surrounding this type of attempt at dynastic trivialisation of culture.
The writer’s reference to the Sumptuary Laws of the Middle Ages raises some interesting questions for our own times. In seeking to control how or what the population consumes, or dresses, and now even speaks, who is actually driving this process? The main driver used to be the Catholic Church which, whilst deliberately shrouding itself in mystery, was at least a known entity. People now tend to make references to WEF types and tech giants but these seem too obvious – almost too up-front.
Another telling aspect of the article was the writer referencing Dworkin with regard to “male-over-female domination”. Now i’m well aware of Dworkin’s reputation, but this strikes me as a simple truism. Everywhere one looks, the sexual urge to dominate is being played out either overtly (e.g. Andrew Tate) or covertly, as in everyday interactions between the sexes. Every time a male passes a female of reproductive age on the street, judgement is being passed and (most likely, but i’m not female so won’t make that assumption) vice versa. This is as old as humanity. This is where the current raging of the trans wars seem to be being fought – this constant judgement and, if that judgement is positive, the desire to possess – to dominate. Excluding oneself from being judged might be seen in the same terms as dressing conservatively, except that (as we’ve read about today regarding Ellen/Eliott Page and Paris Lees) there are aspects of trans culture that seek to exhibit rather than the reverse. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this article appears at the same time.
So, where does female agency exist? Does the much-referred-to feminisation of culture make female agency greater, or simply provide a veneer for even greater exploitation through greater exposure, display, nudity? I’ve always been an advocate for females being able to take their place in work and society based upon their intellect and abilities, so i’m simply raising these questions, prompted by the article.

Last edited 3 months ago by Steve Murray
Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
3 months ago

Hollywood can’t seem to learn from itself. It might be the most hypocritical place on Earth outside of D.C. Despite the “Me Too” platitudes and take down of Harvey Weinstein, this hideous thing is produced? Depp and women like her volunteer to participate in their own degradation, thus allowing filth to continue under the ludicrous assertion that they are empowering themselves. Yeah, just like those Tuesday afternoon strippers and 11th Avenue prostitutes are empowered. Not at all surprised it’s on HBO. I cancelled it out of sheer disgust when “Oz”- a depraved prison series -was being aired – back in 1997. Glad I have no idea what Netflix is up to.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
3 months ago

What a curse feminism has turned out to be.

Douglas H
Douglas H
3 months ago

Thanks, good article.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago

I haven’t watched Idol or Euphoria so all I have to go on is the writer’s take on Idol, which make it sound painfully misogynistic, voyueristic and for Depp exhibitionistic. Unfortunately, I suspect the wrong kind of people are going to get off on it.

Last edited 3 months ago by Clare Knight