In September 1998, Davis’ feature-length film, Naked Acts premiered at the historic Thalia Theater in Manhattan, where the opening night ticket buyers’ line of 600 people wrapped around the block. The film went on to run for four weeks, breaking box-office records for a single-screen, “exclusive” release without name actors, thanks to word-of-mouth and guerilla-style marketing.
Naked Acts is now part of the permanent collection of the Black Film Center/ Archives at Indiana University. In 2013, Davis donated to the Archive the original 35mm elements for Naked Acts, along with an extensive collection of contextual material, including the shooting script, production notes, journals, press kits, and other items related to the film’s development, production, exhibition, and reception.
The BFC/A’s chief archivist, Brian Grainey, wrote that the film is an important addition to the collection because, “Naked Acts broke ground as an expressly Black feminist project: to ‘explore the myriad influences—personal, familial, communal, and societal— that have an impact on [a Black woman’s] sense of herself as a sexual being” and to examine the impact on self-image of ‘the dominant film portrayals of Black women in this country’s cinematic history.'”
“In casting the role of Diana, the “sistah spirit” in the film, Davis found a creative partner in her fellow image-maker, artist Renée Cox, who grounds the film with her performance as an art photographer taking the nude black female form as her subject. Davis’ film was embraced by critics and audiences on the festival circuit, appearing at over two dozen festivals in the US, South America, Europe, and Africa.”
In September 2014, the BFC/A and Indiana University honored Davis on the 20th anniversary of its production via a two-day symposium entitled NAKED ACTS: Image Making and Black Female Sexuality
As part of the celebration, BFC/A presented a film screening of Naked Acts. at the IU Cinema. Public discussion followed with Bridgett M. Davis and Renée Cox, moderated by Michael T. Martin, Professor, American Studies, Communication and Culture; Director, BFC/A.
Also included in the symposium was an extensive discussion between Davis and artist Renee Cox of their creative partnership on Naked Acts and their work individually on themes of black women’s sexuality and its representation in film, literature, and art. Moderated by Marlon Bailey, Associate Professor, Gender Studies, American Studies.
Shot across three months in 1994, Davis’ film was the first to be written, produced, directed and self-distributed theatrically by an African-American woman.
Celebrated as a key film in the canon of independent cinema by African-Americans in the ’90’s, Naked Acts is included in the seminal anthology “The 50 Most Influential Black Films” by S. Torriano Berry.
Here is a blog post Davis wrote on the film’s 10th anniversary.
Set within the demanding and revealing milieu of a low-budget film shoot, Naked Acts tells the story of Cicely, an actress, who has recently lost 57 pounds and has landed her first role in a low-budget art film. She soon learns that the role requires a nude scene. Her dilemma: How to keep her clothes on and keep her part? Cicely launches on a personal journey that unveils a secret she once kept hidden beneath her girth. Along the way, she discovers that emotional nakedness is far more revealing than taking her clothes off could ever be.
Naked Acts met with critical acclaim after its 1998 premiere. Touted as “fresh, funny and original,” by Variety, an “off-beat, razor-sharp comedy” by The New York Times , “smartly written and charmingly neurotic” by New York Magazine and “a rewarding and invigorating find” by Time Out New York, the film aired on Sundance Channel and was released on video and DVD by Hollywood Video, Amazon and Netflix after screening in 25 film festivals on four continents and garnering key international festival awards, including: Best Feature Film by the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, Best Film at the Berlin Black Film Festival, Best of The Fest Selection at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival and as an Official Selection at the Festival/PanAfricain Du Cinema (FESPACO) in Burkina Faso, West Africa.
As part of the film’s 10th anniversary celebration of its release, Naked Acts traveled with the African Diaspora Film Festival, where it won the 2008 Audience Award for “Best Film Directed By a Woman of Color”.
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