Actor/Director Erin Rye Smashes The Patriarchy In A Tampon Costume In Hilarious New Short Film “Lady Parts”

There are many ways to smash the patriarchy, just ask actor/writer/director Erin Rye, whose new award-winning short film ‘Lady Parts’ called for her to dress up as a dancing tampon for said mission! Digitally released on International Women’s Day in 2022, the film follows Liz, a not-yet-famous actor who finally gets her big break only to realize the glass ceiling can also be a camera lens. She experiences a series of funny-because-they’re-true setbacks and putdowns as she barrels toward her breaking point and has to decide what’s more important: her integrity or her career.

As writer, director, producer, and the dancing tampon in question, this scathing social commentary was born of Erin’s own experiences and highlights the painful truth of moving through the film industry (or ANY industry) as the only woman in the room. ‘Lady Parts’ shows the world not as it SHOULD be, but as it IS, juxtaposing Old Hollywood glamour with humiliating reality.

Having won Best Narrative at both the Hollyshorts Film Festival and Tallgrass Film Festival, ‘Lady Parts’ was also officially selected for a whopping 30 film festivals worldwide (for all the filmmakers out there, IYKYK)!

With rave reviews from audiences at some of the festivals who resonated with the message about smashing the patriarchy, we wanted to speak with Erin to get the lowdown on THAT incredible costume (which almost didn’t get made!), why it was important for her to implement the female gaze behind the scenes, and how making this film has now impacted her real life journey in Hollywood. Watch the trailer and check out our interview with Erin below:

How did the story and idea for ‘Lady Parts’ first come about? 

The story is actually based on my own experiences as an actor. While I’ve never actually been a dancing tampon, I’ve gone on many MANY auditions where you show up and the direction is “Okay, now take off your clothes and pretend you’re playing volleyball!” Or “Okay, now pretend this man old enough to be your grandfather is your loving husband!” I’ve also been in an audition where the director specifically asked me to make every single line about sex when it wasn’t justified by the scene at all! I was fed up with being asked to do ridiculous things and wanted to put that frustration into a project of my own, where the woman gets to talk back.

The film looks at sexism through the lens of humor. Why did you decide to write the film as a comedy? 

I find that humor can disarm people in a way that leads them to be more open to challenging concepts. I think it can be easy for some, especially the perpetrators of bad behavior, to look at a drama as “preachy” or “exaggerated,” but when you show them just how ridiculous their behavior is in a funny way, they feel less attacked and might be more open to reflection. I’ve had a lot of folks say that the film made them laugh and then made them think! Also, comedy is how I personally process difficult moments. I have to laugh or I’ll cry!

Ok a burning question we have…who made the fabulous tampon costume and what was the process of taking it on and off?

You hit on a really interesting moment from our shoot! Initially, we hired a professional costume designer from Las Vegas to do the tampon. It was going to be this gorgeous, elaborate headdress that opened up and a custom leotard, kind of like a tampon showgirl. And then…she just completely flaked! She led us to believe the costume was being made but then didn’t show up to fittings. It was a very “the dog ate my homework” situation including multiple car breakdowns, funerals, weird blurry pictures of parts of the costume, and literally talking to this adult woman’s mother! In the end, we were under the gun because it was the day of the tampon shoot and WE HAD NO TAMPON.

On the our second shoot day I was at a leotard warehouse that the owner had opened specially for us on a Sunday morning trying on different designs and at Jo-Anne fabric buying foam and cotton and talking to an employee who had made a minion costume for his kid for Halloween! All this before our crew call time. Our assistant to the director, Olivia Saccomanno, really stepped up and she and one of the other producers worked on the tampon costume all day in the hot LA sun and finished just in time for me to put it on and shoot. Luckily, everything fit perfectly and it was on with the show! The irony is that the costume they made looked exactly like my original sketch and worked way better with our aesthetic than the fancy Vegas costume ever could’ve. It was a stressful moment, but ultimately everything worked out for the best.

Can you share how some of your own experiences in the film industry were interweaved into what Liz experiences on screen?

Aside from the experiences that inspired the film, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve auditioned for nurses and secretaries who functioned as props to more powerful male characters. It’s also not uncommon to show up to set as an actor and encounter last-minute changes that you really don’t have much time to process. I will say that doing this project has very much affected the way I approach my career today. Everything I do, I do on my own terms. Doing this film and acting out the process of standing up for myself on set has actually affected the way I work. It’s like my body and my spirit remember how that feels and it’s led to me feeling much more comfortable speaking up for myself and for others.

‘LADY PARTS’ Directors Jessica Sherif (L) & Erin Rye (R)

The film was released digitally on March 8 which is Int’l Women’s Day. What does this year’s annual celebration mean to you as a filmmaker in an industry still slow to change in many ways? 

It can be hard to see all the statements on this particular day from powerful people and companies who continue to perpetuate harm, but want to pat themselves on the back for what a great job they’re doing one day a year. But at the same time, I continue to be inspired by my peers. This generation of female filmmakers is so supportive and generous. Folks are all about lifting each other up and not competing with each other or becoming “hard” and “tough” and “one of the boys” to get ahead. It’s a very special thing to witness and be a part of.

Equality is clearly an issue important to you. Can you tell us more about the behind the scenes, and the people you hired on this project? 

It was so important to us (myself and co-director Jessica Sherif) to hire women in key positions. Some of that was actually inspired by research I did while crowdfunding for the film. Did you know that only 5% of film composers are women? I didn’t! It was important to us to make sure we were putting our money where our mouth is, especially knowing that (by necessity) our cast would be nearly all white men. We wanted to break away from the list of people (dudes) we’d worked with before and who were always recommended to us. If everybody is just hiring their buddies, those who are outside those in-groups don’t have a chance to gain the experience and connections or to build resumes that are as impressive as their (usually) white male peers, which just perpetuates the cycle.

(L-R) Hair & Makeup artist Sunny Drissia, Cinematographer Tari Segal, Director/Producer Jessica Sherif and Actor/Director/Writer Erin Rye watch playback of the dancing tampon scene.

There’s also a misconception that there aren’t women out there doing these jobs at a high level, whether it’s cinematography or composing or editing, but there absolutely are! They’re not even that hard to find thanks to all the wonderful industry databases of women working in film. We were incredibly lucky to be able to put together such a talented & generous team. It was also really interesting talking to folks about the project because nearly every woman we spoke about the project with had a story of being dismissed, overlooked, or disrespected because of their gender, sometimes explicitly.

Can you speak to the importance of the female gaze when it comes to telling female stories on screen? 

The female gaze is so important. It’s sometimes hard to define, but it has to do with the way women look at ourselves and each other. For example, I open the film quite scantily clad as a tap-dancing tampon, but the way it’s shot, there’s nothing sexual about it. It’s ridiculous and humiliating, but the shots chosen aren’t objectifying. Later in the film, there’s a moment where I rip open my shirt and show my body, but it doesn’t feel exploitative. Partially that’s the female gaze at work in the writing, showing Liz’s agency in choosing to show her body to make a point, but it’s also present in the direction and cinematography.

The focus of the scene is not Liz’s body. We drew a sharp contrast to that in the the film within the film where the male director pushes in on the female character’s breasts without the actor’s consent and cutting her face out of the frame. For anyone who doesn’t fully understand what we mean by “the female gaze” that’s a great example!

You have screened at a number of film festivals and the word is certainly spreading about ‘Lady Parts’! What do you hope audiences will think about most after watching? 

We were so lucky to have a nice festival run, especially since we premiered in 2019 and our festival run was cut short. In fact, I was at Cinequest film festival in San Jose in March 2020 when social distancing measures went into effect and the festival was shut down after the first two days!

My greatest hope is that women and people from marginalized communities will see themselves reflected in the film and feel heard and understood. I hope men and any people who are in positions of power will understand what it feels like to be on the other side of that power dynamic and empathize with Liz, the only woman in the room. Maybe this will lead some of them to consider their own role in perpetuating these dynamics, even unknowingly.

I hope we can all make a greater effort toward assembling diverse teams and hearing a variety of perspectives, both specifically in the entertainment industry and generally in all workplaces.

For you personally, where do you hope to see your filmmaking career in the next few years? 

I’m currently writing a female-centric script about the Dinner Party. As a historical thriller it’s a distinct departure from most of my work, but it explores some of my favorite themes: capitalism, the myth of American exceptionalism, toxic masculinity, and cannibalism! Before a studio gives me many millions of dollars to direct that big-budget period piece, I hope to write, direct, and star in an indie comedy feature with a musical element, but it might be dancing cupcakes instead of dancing tampons this time around!

Be sure to head to the ‘Lady Parts’ website to find out how you can watch the full film and see Erin Rye smash the patriarchy dressed head to toe as a dancing tampon!