It’s well-known that Instagram hates nipples — specifically, photo of bare nipples on female-presenting breasts — and will drop the banhammer on any images that the service suspects of violating the anti-porn rule. After a 2019 meeting with artists, it relented to allow visual artwork that includes women’s nipples, such as, well, the vast majority of fine art paintings in museums, as long as the medium isn’t a photograph. But the algorithm is famously trigger-happy, and anodyne images are censored from the service all the time — which is exactly what happened to renowned Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s poster for his new film Madres Paralelas (Parallel Mothers).
Actress Penélope Cruz, who stars in the film and has previously worked with Almodóvar, shared the poster on Instagram. It was designed by graphic artist Javier Jaén, and he initially posted the photo to his personal Instagram account, where it was banned. As you can see below, the design is centered on a black-and-white image of a lactating nipple, and the framing suggests that it is intended to look like a crying eye. Against a stark red background with forceful pink text in caps, the poster obviously falls within Instagram’s artwork exemption, but the Facebook-owned service killed the image. Jaén and Almodóvar were Zucced, as the kids say.
Later, Instagram reversed its decision and allowed the poster to be displayed on the app. “We do, however, make exceptions to allow nudity in certain circumstances, which includes when there’s clear artistic context,” Instagram said to the Associated Press. “We’ve therefore restored posts sharing the Almodóvar movie poster to Instagram, and we’re really sorry for any confusion caused.”
Jaén explained that the censorship didn’t come as a surprise to himself and Almodóvar. “He told me that he had made films with posters his whole life,” Jaén told the AP, “long before Instagram, and he would keep doing so after Instagram, too.” True to form, Almodóvar doesn’t give a single carajo about the haters, AI or otherwise.
“This is probably the first image I saw when I was born,” Jaén continued. “A company like Instagram tells me my work is dangerous, that people shouldn’t see it, that it’s pornographic. How many people are they telling that their body is bad, that their body is dangerous? They say their technology can’t differentiate the context. I don’t care. Change your technology then.”
Instagram routinely censors images that, by its own terms of service, should be allowable on the feed. As an all-ages app, it’s absolutely understandable that the company aggressively bans sexual imagery. But as the #FreeTheNipple movement, a cottage hashtag that has sprung up to protest its policies, perceived male nipples aren’t subject to censorship because they aren’t sexualized like female breasts, even though they are literally the exact same anatomical body part. Instagram’s algorithm certainly errs on the side of banning first, reversing decisions later — and art suffers the consequences.
Madres Paralelas will premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and stars Cruz as a mother giving birth in a hospital, where she meets another young mom, and the two forge a tight bond.