‘Naked Acts’ workshop events examine ‘Image Making and Black Female Sexuality’

Two decades have passed since Bridgett M. Davis began work on her groundbreaking film “Naked Acts.”

Now Indiana University welcomes Davis to its Bloomington campus Sept. 29 and 30 as part of a free workshop that also features acclaimed artist Renee Cox.

Bridgett M. Davis

Bridgett M. Davis is a notable author and filmmaker.

In “Naked Acts,” a young actress is unwilling to expose her body for a movie, in the sauna or even to a boyfriend. What Cicely does reveal is her pain and insecurity.

“Naked Acts” has been named one of “The 50 Most Influential Black Films” by the guide’s author, S. Torriano Berry. He also celebrates it as the first feature film written, directed, produced and self-distributed by an African American woman.

Davis said she is pleased that issues around black women and their bodies continue to be discussed.

“When I made the film 20 years ago, I wanted to explore the theme of black women’s relationship with their own bodies against the backdrop of society’s gaze,” Davis said.

Naked Acts woman wrapped in film

In ‘Naked Acts’ a young actress struggles with the pressure to do a nude scene on screen.

“We are still at a place in the culture where black women see their self-worth tied to their bodies — for better or worse. And we are still facing the same dilemma that my film addressed: society fetishizing black women’s bodies while equally exploiting and devaluing them,” Davis said.

“Back then we had the ubiquitous images of, on the one hand, Oprah and on the other, African American women in rap videos. Today isn’t really much different, if you look at Michelle Obama and Lupita Nyong’o at one end of the spectrum, and the preponderance of twerking videos of black women at the other end.”

The workshop “Naked Acts: Image Making and Black Female Sexuality” explores its topic through a series of free events that are open to the public:

  • 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 29, reception, The Black Film Center/Archive – The BFC/A will host a public coffee reception with guests Davis and Cox. The center is located in Room 044 of Wells Library (basement level).
  • 7 p.m. Sept. 29, “Naked Acts,” IU Cinema – Free, but ticketed. Both Davis and Cox are expected to attend this special screening. Jake-Ann Jones stars as Cicely, an actress who is estranged from her Blaxploitation film star mother — and her own figure. Cox appears in the role of Diana, an art photographer whose subject is the nude black female form. A question-and-answer session will follow, led by Terri Francis, associate professor in the Department of Communication and Culture, now in The Media School.
  • 10:30 a.m. Sept. 30, Artist talk with Renee Cox, Dogwood Room, Indiana Memorial Union – Cox is a Jamaican-American photographer known for challenging nude self-portraiture, which has been featured in major shows at the Venice Biennale and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Her recent work features dazzling, kaleidoscopic compositions of many nude forms. After Cox shows images of her work, a discussion will be led by Phoebe Wolfskill, assistant professor in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies.
  • 3 p.m. Sept. 30, Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture, IU Cinema – No tickets are required, but seating is limited. An extensive discussion between author/filmmaker Davis and artist Cox will be moderated by LaMonda Horton-Stallings, associate professor in the Department of Gender Studies.
  • goslow5:00 to 6:00 p.m. Sept. 30, reception, The Black Film Center/Archive – Following the Jorgensen lecture, TheBFC/A will host another public coffee reception with Davis and Cox in Room 044 of Wells Library.
  • 7 p.m. Sept. 30, “Into the Go-Slow” reading and book signing, Boxcar Books, 408 E. Sixth St., Bloomington – Davis will read passages of her new novel about a young woman from Detroit who finds herself in Nigeria, retracing the last footsteps of the sister she lost. Jacinda Townsend, who teaches creative writing in the Department of English, will moderate a discussion. Copies will be available for signing.

Free tickets for “Naked Acts” are now available, with a limit of two per person. Tickets for IU Cinema films can be obtained at the IU Auditorium box office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; at the cinema one hour before any screening; or by phone at 812-855-1103 for a $10 service fee per order.


Artist Renee Cox studied film before turning to photography that often uses her own nude form to challenge sterotypes and views about women.

The workshop is sponsored by Indiana University’s Black Film Center/Archive; College Arts & Humanities Institute; the Kinsey Institute; IU Cinema; and the departments of American studies, gender studies, African American and African Diaspora studies, English and its Creative Writing Program. The Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture Series is made possible by the Ove W. Jorgensen Foundation.

In 2013, IU’s Black Film Center/Archive received an important donation from Davis of the original 35mm elements for “Naked Acts,” along with the shooting script, production notes, journals and other items. “I am honored that the world’s premiere archive for black film now has “Naked Acts” and its supporting materials; nothing makes me happier than knowing scholars and educators and film buffs will be able to study the film and its making,” she said.

“I felt at the time it was important to tell a gripping tale and illuminate an important issue. The Black Film Archive/Center has helped to affirm my intent,” Davis said.

“It’s a filmmaker’s dream to have her work become part of an important canon.”

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