So here's this highly acclaimed motion picture about a pre-industrial tribe and its customs. Perhaps the film details this tribe's interactions with white folks, or takes place entirely before they arrive. It just so happens that in the culture displayed, the women wear very little clothing or walk around topless.
But there's a part of you that can't help thinking the entire film is nothing but an excuse to have lots of people running around with few or no clothes on.
The Trope Namer is National Geographic Magazine, which sometimes shows topless women when running an article on tribal cultures where the women don't customarily cover their breasts. Almost all PG-13 or R-rated movies owe their ability to show any skin to old nudist films in this vein, such as Holiday in the Sun or Garden of Eden. The trope originally concerned innocent and rather tame nudist documentaries; when the nudists of the time successfully fought for the right to show nudity on the silver screen for nudist films under the justification that it wasn't sexual, filmmakers used the new loophole to make hundreds of B Movies using the setting to allow them to show flesh.
Films such as The House on Bare Mountain or The Beast that Killed Women nominally took place at a nudist colony or whatnot, but dropped this outside random shots of naked (or usually just topless) women — and never, ever, naked men.
This trope is dominant on the Australian TV network SBS.
Sometimes this is like Innocent Fanservice Girl on a culture-wide scale. For when it's a race of extraterrestrial beings, see Exposed Extraterrestrials. See also Poor Man's Porn for when National Geographic Nudity is used for more titillating purposes. Related to It's Not Porn, It's Art, Our Nudity Is Different.
- Lampshaded, along with a hearty helping of Deliberate Values Dissonance, in a humorous postcard from the 1950s showing, first, a white couple in the Victorian era (a suit and hat for the man and a hoop-skirted dress for the woman) staring disapprovingly at a Native American couple wearing nothing but loincloths. Then it shows, a century later, the natives in all-covering Victorian garb, and now they're the ones staring disapprovingly at the great-grandchildren of the white Victorian couple, who are parading around in swimsuits that bare their arms, legs, and midriffs.
- Many figure-drawing books that contain photographs of nude models will have about twice as many female models than male ones, whose breasts, buttocks, and pubic regions will be photographed in full view in extreme poses, sometimes to the point of cropping out arms, faces, and anything below the knees, but the models' bodies are all young, fit, and slim, while the male models are of varying ages and body types and posed modestly. Older books are even more extreme, with the female figure being extensively featured completely nude in a variety of dramatic poses, photographed from every angle with close-ups of breasts and buttocks, and the male figure being modeled by one or two gentlemen in inert standing poses, wearing some form of underwear and with their faces censored out.
- Richard Corben's Den. In Neverwhere, there are no nudity taboos, although clothing can vary wildly. For instance, Den and Kath, who are buck naked, meet Kang, a warrior who is largely fully clothed with armor and a hooded cape and he never gives any comments about that.
- Sur les Terres d'Horus: Les Disciples de Maât by Isabelle Dethan is an adventure/detective series set in Ancient Egypt at the time of Ramses II, when it was customary for female servants to be dressed topless.
- Les Passagers du Vent by Francois Bourgeon, a historical adventure series set in the late 18th century and involving the West African slave trade. Also a bit of white nudity, but in both cases usually female only.
- In the Chilean comic Mampato in Rapa Nui, when they travel to Easter Island in the 16th century, women appear all topless, although they appear quite little and usually in the background.
- Referenced in FoxTrot as Roger believes Jason to be looking at these kinds of pictures after locking himself in his bedroom having come home with an armload of National Geographic magazines (and is pleased, since Jason is still in the "girls are icky" phase). As it turned out, Jason bought the magazines because they documented the old Apollo missions.
- Parodied in Calvin and Hobbes: in one strip, Hobbes (a talking tiger) claims that he only reads National Geographic for the hot tigress babes.
- The French animated movies Kirikou and the Sorceress, Kirikou and the Wild Beasts and Kirikou and the Men and Women. The African women are all topless, and the children, boys and girls, are fully nude, including the eponymous hero. Award-winning children's movies in Europe; can't be shown in the States without an R rating.
- The 1937 adaptation of King Solomon's Mines provides a surprising example from The '30s of topless African tribeswomen.
- The Mission
- Rapa Nui
- At Play in the Fields of the Lord
- End of the Spear
- The Jewel of the Nile
- Walkabout (though for most of the film, there's only one tribesman)
- The Gods Must Be Crazy is another example, although it is a comedy. The protagonist (a Bushman from the Kalahari Desert in Africa) wears only a loincloth that covers his genitals but bares his buttocks. He sets out on a quest across the continent for reasons too complicated to mention here, precipitating a (for him) fascinating voyage of discovery and nonstop Values Dissonance. Along the way he sees many non-Bushman Africans, both black and white, and is puzzled by their "multicolored skins," and the fact they often have different colored "skins" on different parts of their body (i.e., clothes). He also spies a woman in her underwear (a lacy white bra and slip) and wonders why she has covered herself with cobwebs.
- The Emerald Forest
- Nowhere in Africa: A plot point. Walter and Jettel, are German Jewish refugees from Hitler, who fled to Kenya but were interned as "enemy aliens" by British colonial authorities when war broke out. Recently released from internment, they see some Kenyan women walking by topless, carrying their burdens atop their heads. Walter dares Jettel to take her top off and walk like the native women do, and she does. Then out of nowhere he turns nasty and asks if she made any "friends" while interned. It turns out that he knows about the British officer she had sex with.
- Como Era Gostoso o Meu Francês, or How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman
- As mentioned above, 1950s-1960s nudist "documentaries" such as Blaze Starr Goes Nudist or Garden of Eden take the subculture version of this. The flood of random nudity these films brought was influential in loosening the rules until these movies were all but forgotten afterward although there are the occasional throwbacks, such as Nudist Colony of the Dead (1991) or Nudist Camp Zombie Massacre (2010).
- Although a fictional setting, applies to Avatar, where the Na'vi only wear a loincloth most of the time. Although some strategically placed necklaces/scabbards often hide the females' breasts, there are several scenes where they are clearly displayed.
- The 1984 film The Bounty, about the famous mutiny, features Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins and a fair number of topless Tahitian women. This film was, after all, much more dedicated to historical accuracy than the earlier movies.
- The 2010 documentary Babies
- Medicine Man has several scenes with almost or completely naked men, women and children, including a pair of shots of a line of women buttocks when said women are helping the heroine in her scientific research. But since all naked people are Native American, the movie got a PG-13 rating.
- Referenced in Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005), when the executives to whom Denham is speaking ask if his picture will have "boobies" in it. He is less than amused.
- Papillon, after the titular character is adopted by some South American tribespeople.
- Quest for Fire, set in the Stone Age. Ika is naked throughout the movie. In particular, Rae Dawn Chong was cast as Ika because she was the most comfortable with nudity. She remained nude and covered in body paint between takes to stay in character.
- The Clan of the Cave Bear, set in prehistoric times, does this in the Clan Meeting scene, with several female members of other clans casually bare-breasted.
- EuroTrip had a nude beach populated entirely by old men, much to the disgust of some of the main characters.
- Trader Horn (1931) shows quite a bit of this as Horn and his protege Peru travel up an African river. Somewhat atypical for the era in that Peru, the young man of the pair, is shown quite obviously titillated by some of the comelier half-naked African women.
- Parodied in Peter Jackson's Mockumentary, Forgotten Silver, where the first color film ever made was supposedly banned and forgotten because of its extensive National Geographic Nudity.
- The action-adventure film Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend features topless natives towards the beginning of the film, and several in the tribe that the protagonists befriend (in spite of its PG rating).
- Legong: Dance of the Virgins (1935) had an all-Balinese cast going about daily activities. Many of the women were topless. This was a "goona goona" film, half-documentary, half-drama, one of many made in that period. note
- For most of Tabu (1931), the Tahitian girls are dressed modestly enough in sarongs. But in the ceremonial dance scene, the female dancers wear nothing but grass skirts.
- Cannibal Holocaust: The nudity here is rampant, and part of the film's statement on the struggle between civilized and uncivilized societies (which the director intended as a slur against the Italian media).
- Most of the characters in Things Fall Apart don't wear much clothing. It is explicitly pointed out at one point that Ekwefi must hold her breasts in place to keep them from flapping against her body.
- An aversion is described in Just War; one character in the 1940s has a children's encyclopedia from the 1930s, which has a picture of a South African woman in "tribal dress", and a note saying that at home she doesn't usually have a blanket wrapped around her. He tells Roz Forrester that for years he wondered what she wore instead of the blanket.
- Nellie Bly mentions this multiple times in her 1890 travel memoir Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, like when she observes the naked black men pulling rickshaws in Colombo, or the naked men on the beach at Port Said that caught an alligator.
- Mutiny on the Bounty: "No women in the world are more modest than the ladies of Tahiti, but they bare their breasts as innocently as an Englishwoman shows her face."
- Lampshaded in Take A Girl Like You by Kingsley Amis, even explicitly mentioning National Geographic:
Jenny sat down in a folding chair by the window and pretended to read a copy of the National Geographic for July 1946 that someone had left about. It had native girls with bare busts. (Why did native busts not count?)
- In The Little Golden Calf Lokhankin only saves from the house fire "a book so dear". It is a Russian translation of Mann und Weib, a very serious work best known back then for its quality illustrations.
- Tribe was a series on The BBC focusing on a white man attempting to live with a variety of tribal cultures. He is forced to be naked on several occasions, and the camera generally avoids showing his genitals. The tribespeople, on the other hand, don't get this.
- The first episode of I, Claudius had a group of African dancers, including topless women, entertaining Augustus and his guests at a dinner party.
- BBC Three's Last Man Standing and Last Woman Standing feature westerners visiting various tribes in order to compete in different forms of combat. Some of the tribes are naked or nearly naked, but the contestants aren't usually required to imitate them.
- In an episode of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye uses the threat of withholding from "Radar" the National Geographic issues with tribal nudity in them in order to get Radar to take care of something for him.
- The first episodes of Roots (1977) has many shots of barebreasted African women before they get caught by slavers.
- The Grand Tour features uncensored shots of a group of local ladies in Namibia. They dance for Hammond as he tries to fix his car; he tries to be polite and acknowledge the dancing while also being gentlemanly and trying not to stare.
- Brilliantly deconstructed on Sheena (2000). One episode starts with Sheena getting dressed in western-style clothes. When she puts on the bra, she doesn't know how to latch it shut, so she ties it up in back instead. This makes sense since she would have grown up around NGN being played straight, meaning she would have had no fully-dressed female role models to teach her how to correctly put on a bra.
- In the Book of Genesis, this was Adam and Eve before they ate the Forbidden Fruit. They were nude, but they had no concept of "naked" or "nudity" or "feeling naked." There was no shame or indecency surrounding their nudity. It was only after the fruit was eaten that they developed a concept of "naked" and felt self-conscious and ashamed of their nudity. When God questioned Adam as to why he and Eve were hiding (and wearing Improvised Clothes made of fig leaves), and Adam replied that it was because they were naked, it becomes an I Never Said It Was Poison moment.
- Female Iskai in Albion leave two out of their four breasts exposed. This is never commented on, nor did it prevent the game's sale; although it may have something to do with it being a German game translated to English.
- In Master of Magic, the African priestess Sharee is topless.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the Zoras (including Princess Ruto) are completely naked, although the King wears some regal garments. The Zoras in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess are similar in this regard, although their overall design is different (and far more human-like) compared to the Zoras in the Nintendo 64 games. This is averted for Princess Ruto in the 3DS re-release of Ocarina of Time, where Ruto was redesigned to have strategically-placed "fins" on her chest. Along with the other fins that she always had, this gave her the appearance of wearing a dress, in a way similar to Queen Rutela of Twilight Princess. This same design is used for Ruto in the spin-off game, Hyrule Warriors. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has more female Zoras than other games, but they ditch the chest fins; some of the race wear garments, but those barely cover much and don't bother with where they would anatomically have private areas.
- In Farnham Fables, the Lizard Folk natives of Glekutsu Village have no issue with female toplessness (despite having Non-Mammalian Mammaries). However, going around fully nude, like Dr. Keith does, is still considered unusual even by their standards.
- The Simpsons:
- When Homer travels as a missionary to a remote Pacific Island to teach the tribe living there about the Bible, he is disappointed with the lack of nudity, leading the the tribal chief to explain that Christian missionaries have already taught them "the gift of shame". Another tribesman then points across the bay and notes: "The naked women are all on that island." Homer looks forlornly toward the other island, from which he can hear female giggling.
- In the first episode, Lisa is in a play on Christmas in different countries, and does a tribal dance wearing nothing but a tribal mask, a coconut bra and a grass skirt.
- Family Guy:
- In an episode when Chris runs away and joins the Peace Corps, he ends up with a tribe that wears only loincloths. When he dons one, the chief points at his crotch and exclaims "Oh my God, Chris! I can see your genitals!" When Chris reacts with embarrassment, the men laugh and the chief continues "It's OK. You can see everybody's junk!"
- In another episode, after Meg is believed to have wrecked the city's cable access, her teacher blames her for the class not getting to see a video about a tribe with topless, large-breasted women.
- In the Chilean animated film Ogu And Mampato In Rapa Nui:
- Marama, a young Rapa Nui girl, spends the entire film walking around in only a small loincloth and a seashell pendant.
- Adult women wear coconut bras, although in the original comic, as in real life, they went topless.
- In the first episode of Il était une fois... L'Homme, all of the early humans are shown completely naked, and with Barbie Doll Anatomy.
- As suggested by the trope name, there are plenty of cultures in the world who are completely fine with nudity on a level that would make Westerners squeamish. Some documentaries censor the naughty bits as a result; many more do not. Oddly enough, this can work in reverse for those same cultures. There are many African tribes where having women go topless is considered completely normal, but having them bare their legs is considered highly provocative. The members of these tribes often have the same reaction to the sight of women dressed in shorts as Westerners do to the sight of women not wearing tops. (And in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't really that long ago that Western civilization had a taboo against women showing their legs.)
- Of course, there are plenty of cultures in the west that are more or less fine with nudity on a level that would make other parts of the west squeamish. Most states in The United States, for example, have at least one nudist club, while Europeans tend to be more relaxed about topless sunbathing and smaller/tighter swimwear on men.
- Interesting fact about the Trope Namer: The media studies work Reading National Geographic found that, aside from choosing to represent areas of the world with images that reinforce specific themes (the Pacific islands are idyllic, East Asia is eccentric and a decade behind the times, African children smile when doing backbreaking labor, etc.), what nudity is permitted in National Geographic depends on who's doing it. African, Native American and other "primitive" people get their naughty bits published, while European vacationers on a nude beach... don't. And in a strange case of Race Lift, persons with borderline skin tones will have their skin darkened in order to be acceptably nude. The magazine made an exception with some lighthearted Meme Acknowledgement in their 125th anniversary issue (October 2013) by printing a graph showing the frequency of nude images published in the magazine by decade.