Masculinity, Femininity and Vulnerability: Ezra Miller’s Playboy Shoot

Wearing high heels and lip gloss, Ezra Miller’s presence as a successful queer actor in a Playboy photo shoot, the interview conducted by Ryan Gajewski, has become a widely discussed aspect of the gender performance conversation. Some are contesting it, some are obsessing over it, but regardless of the stance, people are talking. For Miller, who has homed himself directly within the Hollywood sign in recent signs, playing with ‘female’ apparel isn’t something entirely new. Over the years he has had his hair long, styled with scrunchies, worn red lipstick and matching red gloves, as well as donning skirts and dresses.

Miller’s input in the Playboy photographs – his poses are a seamless tarantella with the clothes he wears, combined with his identification as queer, and neither male nor female – presents the shoot favourably. The styling and the photographs, taken by Ryan Pfluger, are entirely complementary to ideas of femininity and masculinity, unlike many others’ attempts to play off mockeries of dressing as a female as ‘transgressive’. Playboy, a company having already been under fire during its whole existence for its treatment of women, toxic masculinity and people of colour, seems an unusual magazine to welcome Ezra Miller. While many are suspicious at the legitimacy of the good intentions of the shoot, particularly following founder Hugh Hefner’s recent death and the subsequent re-emergence of sexual assault allegations, I regard it as a pivotal moment in Playboy’s growth, fulfilling their key aim of sexual liberation.  Due to the shaky ground of this conversation, and my cis-gendered inadequacy to make valid statements, I will discuss the element of the shoot, that really, is what most what people have been so moved by; the images themselves.

In his first look, Miller is wearing a black shirt in a soft fabric with shades of blue flowers printed. The colour palette and texture is curtained by a contrasting white blazer with only the edges of the sharp tailoring standing out against the white background. The focal points of the image are the dark shirt and the black heels, which Miller holds onto with a raised leg. This image provides a neutral palette to introduce the shoot, and Miller himself to the viewer. We see sculpted masculine cheekbones and legs, a blazer which is neither here nor there in terms of gender stereotypes and then at the heart of it a ‘soft power’; a conscientious vulnerability in the shock of floral adorned torso. In this outfit, Miller plays around with poses; accentuating the curve his back into his hips in a typically feminine stance but pulling up the shirt to reveal more sexualised areas. Later portrait shots play with lighting, shadow and focus, creating a more intimate and hazy glimpse of his personality.

For the next look, the colour palette dynamic is switched: a white, deeply cut tailored jumpsuit is offset by a faded claret backdrop, matching the lipstick Miller wears. His stance is neither ‘masculine’ nor ‘feminine’, rather powerful. A squatted pose with an ethereal gaze, and a blasé pulling aside of the deep neckline to bare more skin, this image is offset by the trademark black playboy bunny ears, capturing the strength in vulnerability and creativity of the interview. In a video clip showing us a montage of the shoot’s behind the scenes, Miller tells us that supposedly excitement and nerves are in the same part of the brain, leading to unions of both; this outfit captures that aura perfectly.

The final look is possibly the most talked about; an essence of the signature Killing Eve blush overtures of lace and net combined with matching nude rabbit ears. The interview is introduced, Miller “dons Bunny ears & goes deep”, presumably into the rabbit hole of sensuality and spirit, as these shots take place on a rooftop terrace.

The muted peach sky is captured by Pfugler as another essential part of the dialogue of the images, Miller’s own movements more relaxed and natural complimenting his undone hair. The ruched mesh accents on the train sit behind him delicately, allowing the gazes from Miller to become the focus. His ownership of his body, and movement of it mirror that of a dancer in its effortless performative expression, enhanced by details such as the dust on the soles of bare feet.

The climb of the shots parallel the tone of the interview; ascending from a studio to a staircase, to a cinematic rooftop, as Gajewski guides Miller in conversation from talk of career, up through to issues of discrimination and personal struggles that bring them both to tears. All in all the shoot is exactly how one would expect Ezra Miller to come across; sensual, powerful and deeply deeply vulnerable.

See the full interview here.

Kate McCaughey

Images Courtesy of Playboy