It’s sadly taken the melting blancmange that is Harvey Weinstein being outed as a predator for rape culture to get any traction in the media, but regardless of the reason, it’s a popular topic and a regular plot line in film and TV now. However, does this mean rape victims are being taken any more seriously in these portrayals? Does this mean any more women are getting to tell these stories by directing the films and TV shows featuring rape plot lines? Are the discussions being led by the right people, or are we still drowning voices, which leads to victim blaming?
Ever the pessimist, I’m inclined to say hell no, however it would be unfair to throw cold water on what some people have been doing to raise awareness for rape victims with their art. There have indeed been progressions – let’s focus on those.
A big hit at Sundance ‘17 and due for release in the UK this year, The Light of The Moon is the debut feature by writer, director, producer and editor Jessica M. Thompson, and it’s possibly the best portrayal of the realities of surviving rape out there thus far. It tells the story of the six weeks following the rape of Bonnie (Stephanie Beatriz) as she tries to rebuild her life – the awkward conversations, the secrets, the suffering of work, the suffering of your sex life. Bonnie features in every single scene: we are never too far from her face where we read every nuance of emotion and feel every stab of memory. Every awkward conversation is documented – because the aftermath of trauma is made up of these stilted moments, rather than grandiose explosions.
This space is one in which we get to know the type of person Bonnie is. Hardworking and disinclined to wallow, she absorbs the awkwardness surrounding her, and the fragility of others, in order to become the rock she needs to be to survive. But her utter rejection of fragility – a coping mechanism I’m sure everyone can sympathise with – is one that eventually catches up with her.
What is clear is that Thompson’s number one priority was a fair portrayal of the protagonist and survivor. It is logical that this is only made possible when trust is established by the director and their subject. The treatment of leading ladies in film, historically, have been as objectifying as the stories themselves, where rape scenes were effectively actual assaults by the actors on actresses. But the result of a more female-focused environment is palpable. Stephanie Beatriz’s performance as Bonnie is all-encompassing and unforgettable: she is given the screen time to be aggy and pissed off, to laugh freely with her mates, to roll her eyes at other people’s methods of coping with delicate subjects, and to cry, of course, when the time is right.
As well-written and nuanced as a character is co-star Michael Stahl-David, who plays boyfriend Matt. Gone are the tropes of the overly-aggressive, blundering fool of a survivor’s spouse and remaining is a clumsy, fragile navigating of this new, nightmarish time. Everything feels real, from Bonnie’s frustration with how it takes a trauma such as the one they are facing to suddenly make him wake up about his responsibilities to her, to her decision to not tell anyone else what has actually happened to her resulting in a pressure on him alone. The myriad of feelings without a pattern is all very reminiscent of life’s biggest hurdles.
It’s film such as these which give us hope for a film landscape that actually works to dismantle rape culture, victim blaming and harassment in general, for taking the time to give a platform to the voice that can teach us most: the survivor’s.
The Final Word: this is the survivor’s story we deserve
THE LIGHT OF THE MOON is available on VOD, and stay tuned for the UK release date this year.