Feminism and pornography have a complicated relationship. It can be hard to reconcile what can be seen as women performing and posing for the male gaze, with women having autonomy over their bodies. Which is why, if you’re interested in digging into all that, the trailer for Amazon’s Hugh Hefner docuseries is definitely worth a watch — just like the series, American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story, will be when it’s released in full on April 7th.
The trailer offers a glimpse of what viewers are in for: a look at the rise of Playboy, the Playboy Club, and how Hefner was an activist in his own right, standing up for sex positivity, civil rights, women’s rights, and the LGBTQ community.
The Amazon series will include reenactments of Hefner’s life beginning in 1953, mixed with actual footage from Hefner’s archives and scrapbooks, and interviews with stars including Gene Simmons and Jesse Jackson. It’s all about the rise of the Playboy empire, and the new narrative might surprise you.
From the trailer, it looks like there will be as much attention given to the magazine as the Playboy Clubs, which were a global chain of bars that began in Chicago, where the waitresses wore bunny tails and “boys could be boys.”
Ick. We know. It’s worth going into the series with an open mind.
For the time, the 1950s, the conversation that Hefner was promoting about the realities of sex — that people have it, in general — was progressive; people still pretended that babies came from storks, and “promiscuity” could cost a woman her reputation, or more. Hefner also fought for Nat King Cole and Aretha Franklin to perform at his club at the height of the Civil Rights movement. And let’s not forget: Playboy did have some really good articles back in the day.
But let’s not sugarcoat the entire enterprise. Gloria Steinem famously wrote an article about going undercover as a Playboy Bunny in 1963 for Show magazine, revealing that women were paid low wages and faced exploitative treatment. She also noted that the Playboy Clubs monitored the women’s personal lives. So it might be required reading before you go into the series, in the name of due diligence.
Playboy magazine underwent a rebranding in 2015, doing away with nude photos of women. But, thanks to low sales numbers, the magazine recently returned to its tried and true business model, reintroducing nude photos last month. It’s also reopening a Playboy Club in New York City, complete with bunny tails and an outdoor jacuzzi, at a time when women’s rights and sexual equality are more important — and more threatened — than ever. A Playboy Club might not be the throwback we all need right now.
Playboy and Hugh Hefner are an important part of America’s cultural history, and hopefully this new series will add some perspective to the story. But we’ll definitely be watching with a critical eye.