When the Artist Exposes Herself: The Importance of Consent

by Camille Desmarais

*The feminine form will be used throughout the text but includes both actors and actresses.

  1. Social, artistic and legal context

To expose herself, to give herself up, to reveal herself, that is what is expected of actresses. However, when we move from the figurative to the literal, it is essential to stop for a moment to learn about the rights that come into play in these particular situations.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, situations have been denounced where actresses have been called upon to act out scenes of nudity, intimacy, or sexual nature in circumstances where they did not feel completely comfortable. The associations in the field, the Artists Union (UDA) and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), have therefore, in their negotiations with the Quebec Association of Media Production (AQPM), put in place certain minimum working conditions in these situations.

These minimum conditions are set out in collective agreements. In other words, the rules of the game in establishing contracts between artists and producers are generally found in:

  • The collective agreement between the UDA and the AQPM (valid between February 2, 2020 and February 1, 2023)
  • The collective agreement between ACTRA and AQPM (valid from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2021).
  1. 2. Collective Agreement Rights
  1. a) “Nude scene”: a definition

The notion of “nude scene” has two components:

  1. The scene where there is nudity regardless of whether it relates to sexual activity, simulated or not.
  2. The scene depicting sexual activity (e.g. erotic massage or dancing, masturbation, simulated orgasms, phone sex, simulated sex, oral sex) whether or not there is nudity.

A nudity scene may therefore involve sexual activity without nudity or nudity without sexual activity.

  • b) At the audition

The artist must be informed that it is a nude scene prior to the audition (48 hours in the case of UDA) and cannot be required to be nude or semi-nude at the first audition. In all cases of a nude scene, the artist association must be notified in advance of the location, date, and time of the audition (48 hours in the case of UDA). Only one audition requiring the actress’s nudity may be required.

During the audition, the only objective must be the examination of the body and no gesture of a sexual nature may be required. Held in camera, only a minimum of 2 witnesses and a maximum of 5 witnesses are allowed. All these persons must have previously demonstrated that their presence is justified by a direct professional interest. Also, a representative of the UDA may be present at the request of the artist.

The audition can only be recorded if and only if there has been written consent in advance and a copy given to the artist and the association.

c) Nudity Attachment

In all cases, the nudity scene must obligatorily be the subject of a nudity attachment submitted to the artist in advance (48 hours in the case of the UDA) and a copy of which will be provided to the association. This attachment must include the following elements:

  • A specific description of what will be required from the artist;
  • The exact nature of the scene;
  • The degree of nudity;
  • The nature of the accessories used (e.g. transparent clothing); and
  • All relevant information allowing an authentic and complete description of the scene.

In addition, if the producer intends to use the said scene for self-promotional purposes, this must be provided for in the nudity attachment.

The actress has the right to refuse any item that is not in the attachment.

d) In rehearsal and during the shooting

The actress is never required to rehearse nude except during the last rehearsal for camera and lighting. On this occasion, the same rules apply as at the audition regarding in camera sessions.

When the time comes to shoot the scene, even if the artist has accepted the scene via the nudity attachment, she can change her mind and refuse without being forced to play the scene. However, in the event of a refusal despite the acceptance of the attachment, the producer may use the services of a double and the artist will have no say in the choice of the double. In the absence of an attachment, not only is the actress under no obligation to perform the scene, but the scene cannot be shot with a double without her consent.

  1. 3. Enforcement of Rights

The existence of these rights does not, however, does not mean they will always be respected. Actresses then have resources to assert their rights.

UDA and ACTRA have set up hotlines where artists can call to denounce or obtain advice 24/7. Among other things, actresses can, with the support of their association, file a grievance against the producer. The grievance is the recourse used in the event of non-compliance with the terms of a collective agreement. The outcome of such recourse may include damages to the plaintiff. If the artist feels uncomfortable with the idea of filing a grievance, she can turn to the organization l’Aparté, which offers advice, psychological support, and legal support in matters of harassment in all its forms, specifically in the cultural milieu.