Lina Esco, 29, is making her directorial debut on the feature about female activists who challenge censorship laws by going topless in public. Esco, who is also an actress, met Cyrus on 2012’s “LOL,” and showed her an early cut of “Free the Nipple” over the summer. That’s when Cyrus agreed to put her own spin on the tune for the film’s closing credits.
Cyrus recorded the song last August in two takes. She’s performed “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma” before, but this version—produced by Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes—sounds different. “It’s more rock ‘n’ roll,” Esco says. “It’s very Johnny Cash. Her voice is so raw, and the song is so raw.”
Esco started a feminist movement when she coined the phrase “Free the Nipple” in 2013, which has since been championed by Lena Dunham, Liv Tyler and Rihanna. The campaign, which has attracted 122,000 Twitter followers, opposes laws in 37 states that make it illegal for women to show their breasts in public.
“This is about equality,” Esco says. “You can show beheadings on Facebook, but you can’t show breastfeeding. If you’re going to censor nudity and love, you should censor violence.”
She came up with the idea for the movie, and when she started sharing the phrase, it went viral online (this tweet from Cyrus helped).
The film, which cost just under $1 million, was shot in six weeks in New York, but Esco ran into problems when police wouldn’t allow her actresses to appear topless in the streets.
“I’m making a movie called ‘Free the Nipple,’ and I can’t show boobs,” Esco says. “I had to go and steal the shots. We went and mapped out all the locations, rehearsed with clothes on and did it all in one take.”
“Free the Nipple” opens in theaters and on VOD on Dec. 12.