BY SHANTI ESCALANTE-DE MATTEIPlus Icon
A poster for Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s new film Parallel Mothers (2o21) was removed from Instagram for depicting a lactating nipple. This removal follows the social media platform’s regulations against such images—unless they appear in the context of breastfeeding, health issues such as post-mastectomy scarring, or art. Yet, even with those exceptions in place, the rule is often applied inconsistently across the platform, as the algorithms that flag posts aren’t always capable of tracking these nuances.
Following the film poster’s removal, its designer, Javier Jaén, was particularly vocal about the censorship. Jaén then reposted the picture on Instagram, writing: “As expected, @instagram took down the poster that we made for the latest Almodóvar film #madresparalelas.” Instagram let the new post remain on Jaén’s page.
On Wednesday, Almodóvar celebrated Instagram’s decision to reverse its censorship of the poster in a statement circulated by his collaborators across both Instagram and Twitter. In it, he thanked his fans for pushing back against the tech giant: “You have gotten the minds behind the algorithm . . . to backtrack and allow the poster to circulate freely. It is your victory, a great victory.” Despite this triumph, he warned that algorithms do not have “heart or common sense,” and argued that they should not be allowed to decide what kind of content is permitted to circulate online.
“We do . . . make exceptions to allow nudity in certain circumstances, which includes when there’s clear artistic context,” explained Instagram in a statement to the Associated Press on the decision to reverse the ban. “We’ve therefore restored posts sharing the Almodóvar movie poster to Instagram, and we’re really sorry for any confusion caused.” However, given Instagram’s exception for artistic context, the rationale for the poster’s initial removal remains unclear.
This is not the first time Instagram’s community guidelines have caused confusion for artists working with nude subjects. In 2019, Betty Tompkins’s Instagram account was shut down after she posted Fuck Painting #1 (1969), one of her many depictions of physical intimacy. Other posts of her photorealist paintings, which frequently feature genitalia and sex, had previously been removed. After pushback from the artist and her fans, her account was reinstated without comment from the platform. Both Tompkins and Almodóvar saw their work restored due in part to their large public followings.
Parallel Mothers is slated to premiere at the Venice International Film Festival on September 1st.