Edit: A clarification to some of the points I made in this post are available here.
I was fortunate enough to attend the Chicago International Film Festival last night, to see Trust, a film directed by David Schwimmer about a fourteen year old girl, Annie, who is preyed upon by an online predator and, ultimately, raped. I was particularly interested in seeing the film because I saw the stage version earlier this year. Rather than try to re-explain my experience, I’ll just quote that April post:
To be totally honest, I was really expecting to dislike this play. I walked in ready for a sensationalist movie-of-the-week about the dangers of newfangled technology, and of writers who were my age when the Internet became mainstream preaching about how things should be for kids who have grown up with and around this technology.
Instead, I saw a piece about bad things happening to good people, of parents doing all the right things and nevertheless seeing their daughter get hurt, of a teenager who made poor – but not unrealistic or unbelievable – choices. It was well-done, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in the use of projection in live theatre, or of dealing with sexual assault, particularly directed at minors. One thing I thought Trust demonstrated particularly well was how cruel it is to label something as not “really” rape, or to dismiss someone’s experiences as “not as bad as it could have been.”
All that holds true of the movie: it wasn’t a Lifetime movie-of-the-week, it didn’t paint technology as inherently evil or “bad,” and it beautifully portrayed the experience of this family as they underwent a horrible experience.
Going to the film festival was an interesting experience, though, and outside of my usual arts scene. For one thing, because the director David Schwimmer was there, there were lots of photographs and media in a way that made me slightly uncomfortable when seeing a movie about rape. Likewise, there were some people there – and, more specifically – at the after-party, who seemed really to be there to see and be seen: The Beautiful People.
Fortunately, those people were in the minority. Schwimmer talked a bit before the screening about his experiences with rape victim advocacy centers in LA, and how that fed his desire to work on this project. There was also a talk-back afterwards with Schwimmer, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and the Illinois school board CEO, whose name I’m forgetting. Schwimmer said that, in particular, talking with fathers of rape victims pushed him to make this movie a reality, because all too often rape is portrayed as a “women’s issue.” Trust deals primarily with Annie’s own experiences surrounding her rape, and equally with her father’s attempts to come to terms with his own helplessness and inability to protect his daughter.
One of the more powerful subplots was Annie’s father fantasizing about finding and killing Annie’s rapist, something Schwimmer said was a universal theme among the fathers he spoke with while preparing for this project.
I’m having difficulty ranking the play and the film (if such a thing were even necessary) because they both were effective in different ways. The play had more time and space to establish how “normal” this family was, and how much love and care there was. The movie was able to delve deeper into the father’s feelings of impotence and lack of power. The play allowed you to exist in the same room with the actors (something I’m a sucker for). The movie allowed for artful closeups and a carefully fine-tuned ramping of emotional intensity more difficult to achieve in live theatre.
The movie, like the play, also brought up my own feelings of powerlessness that has ebbed and flowed throughout my transition. Presenting as a woman, even a relatively tall and unquestionably muscled woman, gives people the social and cultural permission to interact with me in a very different way than when I was presenting as male. Coupled with some of the transphobia I’ve faced the last few weeks (details still pending as I try to work things out), it reminds me the cultural expectations for trans women and, more broadly, women in general: the allowance for women’s bodies to be used, abused, and tossed aside.
There’s a brilliant scene in both the play and the movie, where the father is explaining to a coworker what happened to his daughter. He says it was someone his daughter met online, that she went willingly with him to the hotel. The coworker responds, “Oh, so it wasn’t rape rape. It could have been worse.”
But all of the casual and less casual ways that our bodies are made not our own feed into a larger culture where women don’t have the same expectations of bodily autonomy as men. Trust, along with a lot of other messages, hit that one very successfully.