An RTA School of Media (RTA) student has received backlash for a short film that follows a perpetrator’s perspective of sexual assault.
Some students are offended by the content of the film — Victim — and have used social media to voice their concerns. The film was approved by RTA faculty members for a practicum project.
“The idea that these students and this story … made it through an interview process with faculty and were APPROVED makes me feel angry, sick and frankly unsafe on campus,” wrote third-year creative industries student, Fiona Kenney, in a Facebook post on Friday.
Kenney found out about the project this week when she heard friends from the media school program discussing it. Kenney was upset by the sympathetic language used when describing the main character in a document that outlines the approved practicum projects.
The film is described as a psychological thriller that follows Sean, a college student, as he is stalked by an unknown man. At the end of the film, it’s revealed that the unknown stalker is the boyfriend of a woman who was sexually assaulted by Sean at a party.
In the document, Sean is described as “funny,” “caring” and “seemingly kind-hearted.” However, the document states that Sean’s actions are discovered at the end of the film and he is shunned by his friends as a result.
Dylan Authors, writer and director of Victim and third-year RTA student, said his film is meant to highlight the issue of sexual violence on university campuses. He wants to show that a seemingly pleasant character could be capable of sinister acts.
“At first glance … we think he’s a likeable character,” said Authors. “We think he’s kind-hearted, we think he’s family-oriented and he might be, but the fact that he did this crushes that at the end.”
According to Kenney, there are many students within the RTA class who are upset with the assignment, though they don’t want to speak out against the professors who grade their work.
Kenney is worried that by allowing this project to move forward, it will send a message to RTA students that this narrative is OK to produce.
But Authors believes that this narrative sends an important message.
“[Victim] can show that this reality among college settings is a real issue,” said Authors. “I’m trying to show that [sexual violence] is a reality and I’m trying to do it in a negative light.”
Authors is bothered by the post written by Kenney, as it states that the film is a “rape narrative” created by an “all-male group.” The group creating the project, however, is actually comprised of five women and two men. Authors insists that he never used the word rape in the pitch document or at any other point when discussing the film.
“I think it’s been a matter of miscommunication and misinterpretation,” said Authors about Kenney’s post. “I just want to talk to her.”
Authors said that the group is planning extensive research, including speaking to survivors of sexual violence.
Hannah Reaburn, of the Ryerson’s Women and Trans Centre, felt the document’s descriptions of the characters were problematic.
“The [description] for both of the female characters is ‘the girlfriend of’ or ‘the partner of’ whoever,” said Reaburn. “I just think it’s so telling that the women are only defined through their relationship, which presents them as secondary to men and as only having value through a man and as a sex object.”
Reaburn is also concerned about the revenge narrative, comparing it to the Jian Ghomeshi trial and the media’s treatment of the women who testified against him.
“It was about making the survivors seem vindictive,” said Reaburn. “I think this film itself, if it’s produced, is just going to legitimize that narrative as well. From an artistic standpoint it doesn’t even really say anything that we’re not hearing over and over again.”
Emily Eymundson, a third-year creative industries student, agreed with Kenney and reposted her Facebook status to show her frustration on the subject.
Last year, Eymundson submitted a collection of poems to be featured in a showcase for creative industries students. Her poem collection titled, Little Poems About Sex, was meant to address issues such as sexual violence and a lack of LGBTQ representation in discussions of sex, based on her own experiences.
She was told by the faculty that her poems were “too sexually explicit” and “didn’t reflect the values of the faculty.” She was asked to change some poems, remove others and change the name of the collection.
“What I wanted to achieve by sharing this poetry was — by sharing my own experiences — to find solidarity in people that have had similar experiences,” said Eymundson. “But by suppressing all of what happened and all of my experiences, I wasn’t able to achieve this normalization of talking openly about sexuality and that was really upsetting.”
Eymundson is irritated to see Victim not face the same criticism as her poetry collection had.
“It’s really frustrating to see a film or project that just flies through approval, that’s being told from the perspective of the oppressor when they were so quick to suppress myself as a victim and suppress my voice,” said Eymundson. “It really goes to show you where the true values of the faculty lie.”
Rick Grunberg, an RTA associate professor and the course instructor, said the film has only been approved for script development so far.
“The purpose of this whole course is to take an idea that might be interesting, good, a powerful statement and turn it into something by the end,” said Grunberg. “The way it comes in may not at all be the way it comes out.”
The students have advisers and experienced script writers to help develop the project and monitor its progress.
“We’re trying to make sure it’s taken quite seriously in terms of being sensitive to the topic it’s portraying,” said Grunberg. “We realise we have to approach it with great sensitivity.”
Grunberg said the students have the entire semester to work on their scripts and production package. If the course advisers approve the final script, they can move forward with production next semester.