Sex, violence & censorship

by Ivan Malekin & Sarah Jayne

Exposing the double standard surrounding sex & violence in film & art

In Corpore

Our new film In Corpore is too sexy for Tubi.

This is something we learnt two weeks ago, and we’ve added Tubi to our list of platforms and apps we cannot reach with the film. All our attempts to advertise In Corpore on Instagram fail. Our trailers and teasers are flagged on YouTube. When we wrote in the film’s IMDB synopsis “a sensual, sex-positive exploration of contemporary relationships”, the synopsis suddenly disappeared.

Trying to advertise the film through Google Ads is an ongoing battle and we are losing – Google restricted our ability to market the new release through YouTube due to images being deemed “adult ”. Images, mind you, of people dancing, fully clothed. And for a year leading up to the film release, we couldn’t even share the In Corpore website on Facebook or Instagram because it was blocked by those platforms. The crime: too sexy.

In Corpore restricted images from Google Ads

Recently, we had hopes In Corpore would be accepted by Tubi. Our aggregator FilmHub initially submitted the film to the popular AVOD streaming platform late last year. Tubi rejected the film as they found the sex scenes too explicit so FilmHub asked if we could submit another cut with the explicit shots removed.

I thought this was fair enough. It is their platform, their rules, and the sex scenes in In Corpore do push some boundaries. So I removed the most explicit shots and re-submitted the film. 

Again, it was rejected. We were told all sex acts need to be simulated and were asked to submit a much more toned down cut. But everything was simulated. So I questioned whether it was worth the time to do another cut of the film. FilmHub stated that they typically see films like In Corpore average $1000 - $1500 per month income on Tubi – it would be worth the time.

So I did yet another cut, this time toning down the sex scenes much more. Still, it wasn’t enough and the film was rejected again. Tubi replied that sex scenes can only be “suggestive” so basically we couldn’t have any sex scenes at all.

This was an issue. It was our goal with In Corpore to tell raw and realistic stories about relationships and explore our characters through love and sex and how this defined their connection. Key story moments took place during sex scenes and how our characters acted in bed revealed their emotional state. One review from Screen-Space summed it up:

“Many filmmakers claim they only use sex scenes to advance their narratives and build character, but few achieve that noble goal; Portelli and Malekin, and their fearless cast, do so with grace and class.”

So it was impossible to remove the sex scenes from In Corpore without destroying the story. Reluctantly, we had to accept the film would not work for Tubi. We had to leave the money on the table. For our artistic choice to not shy away from an act virtually every human on the planet takes part in – sex – we had to accept the ways we could share, promote, and make money from our film were restricted. 

Clips from movies show stabbings, blood spurting, exploding bodies, immolation, limbs being ripped apart, and gunshots to the head over and over again. But it is sex and nudity which is censored.

It is particularly galling as there is no such restriction on violence. I notice this when I am watching movie reviews or film list videos on YouTube. Clips from movies show stabbings, blood spurting, exploding bodies, immolation, limbs being ripped apart, and gunshots to the head over and over again. But it is sex and nudity which is censored – otherwise the video would be removed by YouTube and a channel can get demonetised. Compare these two videos from popular television and movie channel WhatCulture for an extreme example:

10 Goriest Deaths In Movie History

10 Horror Movies That Are Basically Porn

And have a guess which video is heavily pixelated and self-censored. If you said the latter, of course, you are correct. In the Goriest Deaths video, I am free to see a woman impaled on a giant wooden pole and a man completely ripped to shreds, his legs severed from his torso. But in the Horror Porn video even Christian Bale's nude behind is blurred out because, somehow, that is too offensive. There is a Hollywood joke that the only thing separating the American R and PG-13 movie ratings (the equivalent of the Australian MA and M ratings) is that in the former, showing a naked breast is fine, and in the latter, the breast must be covered while the owner is hacked to pieces with a chainsaw. 

Even a cropped version of this screenshot from Friends, Foes & Fireworks was rejected by Facebook when we tried to use it for an ad last year.

Friends, Foes & Fireworks

It was Genya Mik’s cleavage that did it. Every character was clothed, the picture was in no way suggestive or even attempting to be sexual, yet because there was cleavage it was pulled up and removed by Facebook’s algorithms for being too inappropriate. The children had to be protected after all.

It makes me question why. In our liberated liberal Western world, in 2021, why is sex still so taboo that the mere mention of it can get your ads on social media pulled, your videos removed, and your accounts banned? Why are people more offended by nudity than violence?


I am hardly the first person to ask this. Game of Thrones author George R R Martin, whose books and subsequent television show feature ample grotesques violence and gratuitous sex and nudity, said at the 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival : 

"I'm always astonished that there's always so much more controversy about the sex than about the violence. That says something about us. I can write a scene and describe in detail a penis entering a vagina, and there will be a portion of the audience who get very upset about that. But I can write a scene about an axe entering a human skull and nobody will complain about that.”

Indeed, a 2015 study by the Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA) found that more parents (80% of those surveyed) are concerned with their kids seeing graphic sex scenes than with graphic violence (64%). And while only 56% of them are worried about the depiction of realistic violence, a full 70% are distressed by full frontal shots of people nude.

There is a disparity here that I struggle to understand. Surely, violence is more harmful to children and our culture at large than sex? 

There is a disparity here that I struggle to understand. Surely, violence is more harmful to children and our culture at large than sex?

Belinda Luscombe
from Time Magazine theorizes that it has to do with likelihood:

“Many people, at least in Western democracies on most days, can live their whole lives without encountering extreme violence. It’s a fantasy. But sex is something most humans will have to deal with eventually.” 

Luscombe argues parents don’t believe their children are in danger of committing violence whereas the danger of making unwise sexual choices is real and this is difficult to counter.So it becomes easier to ban sex than to actually talk to children about it.

Case in point: even sex education content has become a target for shadow-banning on Instagram, a practice where the platform only allows your content to be seen by some of your followers, and hides your images and hashtags from search functions, thereby crippling your ability to reach new audiences. VICE UK reports many sex educators such as Gigi Engle have found their engagement on posts plummet from thousands of likes to hundreds, impacting their ability to attract sponsors and make a living. 

“This is such a backwards step. All this can lead to is a lack of proper education and worse sex. Ultimately they’re telling people that sexuality is inherently dangerous. And it’s not, it’s a normal natural part of human existence.”

In Corpore

Guardian writer Sarah-Jane Stratford blames the patriarchy for these opposing views on violence and sex:

“Women's sexuality has been the target of male study, suspicion, and regulation throughout millennia … Violence, on the other hand, is a male purview. Men conducted war, carried weapons, meted out punishment. Duels were sanctioned as a means of effecting justice. It's a historical ‘boys will be boys’ mentality, justified for its ends. Through violence, one can create empires. Sex just replaces those who were lost along the way.”

Whatever the root of fear, the puritanical attitudes and censoring of sex and nudity has a negative impact on artists worldwide who find themselves de-platformed, banned, or unable to advertise their work and reach their audience.

Continuing with the Instagram example, their community guidelines read: 

“We know there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram”. 

All images uploaded to the app are automatically assessed for inappropriate content using an algorithm, followed up by a global team reviewing posts. If your content is deemed unacceptable, then your image may be demoted (shadow-banned) so that fewer users see it; blurred out and labelled as “sensitive”; or completely deleted with a possible account ban.

This is clearly a problem for artists who want to depict the human form, as art has done for centuries. A platform, a corporation, is deciding what “community standards” means for billions of people around the world.

Spencer Tunick, a photographer known internationally for his shoots assembling masses of nude people, says:

“Instagram really is the magazine of the world right now. And if artists are being censored on Instagram it’s really dangerous for freedom of speech and openness when it comes to the body and art.” 

More sex, less guns, I say. More power to artists who challenge the “community standards”.

So how does one counter this culture, and these corporations, which are so quick to censor?

Well, it helps if you have star power or a following behind you. A search of Tubi’s database reveals Sex and Lucia from Spanish director Julio Medem is on the platform, starring Paz Vega (Spanglish, Rambo: Last Blood) and Elena Anaya (The Skin I Live In, Wonder Woman). Sex and Lucia is a sexually explicit drama featuring an abundance of sex and nudity, much more so than In Corpore, and there it is on Tubi front and centre, while we are told In Corpore is too raunchy to stream.


Australian comedian Celeste Barber, with 7.6 million Instagram followers, was successfully able to call out the platform when she posted a semi-nude photo on Instagram, in which she re-created a picture from Victoria's Secret model Candace Swanepoel and subsequently found the photo restricted and unable to be shared by her fans. There were no such issues with the original photo from Candace Swanepoel and Barber viewed this as double standards and body-shaming.

Celeste wrote on her Instagram Story, "Hey Instagram, sort out your body-shaming standards, guys. It's 2020. Catch up."

Instagram apologised to her, claimed they made an error, and unrestricted her photo.

But it is small and emerging artists who don’t have the power to fight back and the followers to back them up who are particularly vulnerable to censorship – for new or unknown photographers or artists or filmmakers a platform ban could be career-altering.

Nora Pelizzari, director of communications at the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), states: “Censorship always impacts those with the least access to power, first and hardest.”

Certainly, our Tubi rejection impacts our ability to make money with In Corpore in a distribution landscape that already makes it ultra difficult for independent filmmakers to earn a living from their work. Many of our micro-budget film peers are finding Tubi has surpassed Amazon Prime as the top platform to make revenue with your film, yet this option has been denied to us.

Our social media and advertising bans and restrictions limit our ability to reach our niche audience and the people we made the film for – open-minded and sex-positive individuals, the mono+poly community, the LGBT+ community, and people who are simply interested in relationship dramas shown from a female gaze.

It is a frustrating and headache-inducing dilemma, one with no easy solution. All we can do is keep trying our best to promote and share In Corpore and reach the people we know will enjoy the film.

Personally, I am glad you can watch Sex and Lucia on Tubi and I support the artists who have the power and voice to fight back against platform bans. Perhaps, one day, policies will change. Sex will no longer be taboo and make parents squirm. Certainly, I don’t feel suppressing something that makes some people uncomfortable is ever a good solution and studies back this up – kids whose parents talked often and openly about sex were the most likely to make healthy choices later in life when it comes to sex.

So more sex, less guns, I say. More power to artists who challenge the “community standards” and do not shy away from depicting the human body in vibrant life rather than thinking about all the ways we can depict violence on flesh. 

Or, to put it more popularly, let’s make love, not war.

(This article was written by Ivan Malekin)

Go to In Corpore web page here.

Ivan Malekin & Sarah Jayne are two Australian independent filmmakers who are now based in Malta.

Published February 3, 2021. © Ivan Malekin & Sarah Jayne, 2021.