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Conversations: Rape, documentary filmmaking and triggers…

Millennials, social media and damning federal investigations are reshaping rape culture’s topography, as more women push back against a culture that loves protecting rapists and vilifying victims. One survivor of childhood slut-shaming opted to make her experience public, posting her diary from childhood online. And after hearing from other women their harrowing encounters with rape culture and victim-blaming, she decided to try making a documentary about rape culture itself. This post stems from Feministe’s interview with the accidental feminist filmmaker behind Slut: A Documentary Film.

Emily, whose pre-teen diary jumpstarted the collaborative UnSlut Project, is part of a recent trend amongst anti-rape advocates – ensuring their stories have faces and names. In the past, survivors would remain silent about their experiences, or only reveal them with names redacted, to avoid harassment and retaliation. Yet recent years have seen a dramatic reversal. Whilst harassment of victims remains as ugly as ever, more survivors are fighting back against the public’s contempt for women, by going public with their own identities and stories.

I first spoke with Emily two years ago, when both of us were students in the same university system. I’d heard through the grapevine she was trying to do a feminist documentary, though not till last year did I begin volunteering time to help with Slut: A Documentary Film. When I heard she was crowdfunding for the last stretch of postproduction, I decided interviewing her would not only bring some attention to the project, but also answer burning questions that I’d always had for her about the feminist filmmaking process.

I called her one weekend, we began chatting, and I said, “So I noticed your childhood diary has become a collaborative space for other women to submit their stories and raise awareness…”

Q: Had you not started with the UnSlut Project, would you have thought to do a documentary?

A: It was completely borne out of the UnSlut Project. I wasn’t a filmmaker then, so I definitely didn’t think to make a film before the UnSlut Project. Basically I realised as I posted my diary entries that I would eventually run out of diary entries, yet I wanted the conversation to be ongoing. The documentary was a later idea, asking if other women could share their stories for a broader audience. So yes, the documentary was borne out of the UnSlut Project.

Q: Working on UnSlut must have helped with talking to other survivors. You spoke with Rehtaeh Parson’s family for the film, and I wager their trust in you stems from your work on UnSlut.

A: That’s a good point, and it’s true. I came out about my own story, and when you put yourself out there, others become more willing to take a risk and trust you.

Q: Well, anyone can guess your experiences inspired you to start the documentary. What else inspired you? Did you look to past feminist docs to develop a vision?

A: Miss Representation definitely inspired me. I love the idea of women telling their own stories… Hearing their voices and stories onscreen in a very personal way struck me as what I wanted to convey. It’s giving a voice to women. Miss Representation has talking heads, but it has regular women and some very famous women personalities…

Q: The director [Jennifer Newsom] assembled quite a pedigree.

A: Exactly, that serves a purpose in showing how wide the issue is. Some of the women are experts, and others just want to share their stories. That’s what I like about her documentary, though our documentary has its own style and voice.

Q: It’ll be stylistically unique?

A: We have an illustrator doing stark, simple cut-outs. It’s one of ways I think this film will be really salient. The women we interviewed had really harrowing experiences, in some cases rape experiences, and we wondered how we could strengthen the visuals to tell their stories. One way that was suggested to me was by using live-action re-enactments…

Q: What?!

A: …and to me it seemed almost… well, very crass. It seemed cheesy and offensive.

Q: I’m damn glad you had that reaction. You can’t see me but I cringed in real life when you mentioned it.

A: I cringed in real life when it was suggested to me too! In some ways I think abstract, simple animation communicates more effectively. I wish I had better language to describe what I mean. There’s a film by a French animator about women and life in Iran. It was nominated for an Oscar…

Q: Oh, Persepolis!

A: Yes! Though the film won’t look too much like Persepolis. It’ll be coloured, more of a cut-out style with line drawings. The issues are so real and the stories so hard to wrap one’s head around that I think the animation will lend an abstractness which will allow viewers to apply their own experiences in some way, if that makes sense, and leaves it a little bit more open-ended than a re-enactment would.

Q: I understand what you mean. Scott McCloud, a famous cartoonist, has written on this point you’re talking about. When you represent people as abstract figures as opposed to realistic drawings, the more people can relate to them, because the more universal they seem. I think that’s what you mean.

A: Yes, exactly. A lot of the material is really upsetting. I think it’ll allow people to access the women’s perspectives, to have an emotional effect without being gory or violent in a way that could be very triggering, though it might still be somewhat triggering. I hope the animation adds a layer in that way.

Q: I think the fact you’re trying to avoid being sensationalist, and that you’re thinking of issues like not triggering the audience, shows you’ve put quite a bit of thought into this.

A: Thank you…

Next week we’ll return with more conversations about speaking with Rehtaeh Parsons’s parents, crowdsourcing as a way to get more feminism into media, and the predictability of being a target for misogynists and online harassment.

Emily is crowdfunding for the final stretch of postproduction for Slut: A Documentary Film. The deadline will be March 6th, so consider donating if it’s within your means!

“Conversations” is an on-going effort to bring more original content to Feministe, featuring conversations with other feminists. If you wish to transmit hate mail, please direct to the Princeton Mom.

Seasalt & Co. advertises Photoshop tools using lynching imagery and only gets more offensive from there

[Content note for lynching imagery]

Now, some might see an eerie, atmospheric black-and-white shot of a tree with a noose hanging from it, titled, “The Hanging Tree,” and think, “Oh, God, lynching.” Accompany that image with an all-caps, italic COMING SOON, and some might think, “Wow, that’s verging on threatening.” But if you look at those things and think, “I bet there’s a new Photoshop action pack coming out, and I for one can. Not. Wait,” then either you work for Florida creative tool company Seasalt & Co. or are a friend of theirs and need to step in and tell them to get a grip.

That was the image (briefly) on Seasalt’s Facebook page to tease the upcoming release of the action suite, and no sooner was it up than people were seeing it and blanching at the imagery that, intentional or not, can’t be separated from a time when “lynch mob” wasn’t just a hyperbolic euphemism for an Internet pile-on.

Comments and shares started pouring in — including those from people who were offended at the imagery of a noose hanging from a tree, which has become synonymous with racial terror and the lynching of black people in U.S. history. Many user comments had been removed from the Facebook post; the first that appeared from the company itself was a reply thanking a supporter “for thinking outside the box on this. Being hung wasn’t designed just for one race of people. There is a long standing history and more to what is being seen in this advertising image. It represents so much more.”

The image — and all associated comments — was quickly removed and replaced with a nonpology that has also been removed.

Those with concerns about a product of ours, should take proper measures to support their claims. This certain product is not meant to offend anyone nor directed toward any persons, nor has anything to do any certain race. Coming to this page or going to other outlets to express your emotions will not remedy a cure, but spread hate. We have no broken any rights any American has. If you feel your rights are being violated, please contact the civil rights department with your concerns. With or without ones support, we will continue to design our product as it was intended to be made. We are sorry for all those that feel offended, you’re not required to agree with or purchase any of our products. There has been a huge misunderstanding what this product represents. We have given several attempts to explain what it is about and it has been apparent our efforts do not matter to those unwilling to make reason and listen. Our product is about having “freedom” not the act of causing anymore harm. We as a company are using our artistic freedom and expression to take a stand and will continue to do so.

To be perfectly clear: The stand they’re taking in the name of freedom and artistic freedom and expression is hawking a set of soon-to-be-released Photoshop actions.

To be even clearer: People who find this offensive should direct themselves to the civil rights department.

Because this collection of Photoshop actions is about taking back freedom and refusing to be hated against by the industry mobs joining to bully and ridicule artist[s] and hang them up and ruin their lively hoods. The noose just represents being hung, y’all. And Seasalt & Co. refuses to be hung anymore. People where hung for nothing other than hate, and Seasalt is tired of hate. They’re moving on.

As you might expect, people objected, including people on social media, including one Rachel Stewart, a jewelry designer and artist who engaged them in a dialogue and, in so doing, gave them a whole lot more time, patience, and respect to these assbags than any saint should be expected to give.

And Seasalt doubled down.

And then…

To be perfectly crystal clear: Stewart offered to further share their openly posted social media content on social media, and Seasalt threatened legal action.

Their current Facebook nonpology further doubles down (triples down?), talking about a collection that “is about rising above and refusing to let the world run us and hang us by any mistakes we have made or didn’t make.” Seasalt creates art by “emotion and things that hit home for us.” “Not everyone understands as art it’s [sic] subjective.” They can’t help that people “haven’t been able to see past that.” They meant no harm. “Some choose to see only what they want to see.” Seasalt will be donating proceeds from their collection to charities that “support equality and artist” — “maybe even a scholarship fund” — because they want to fight for justice and equality and make it known that they’re no longer following “the leaders of hate or bulling/attacking of others.”

It’s because you don’t understand art. You don’t understand that the fear and violence experienced by people of color, and the threatening nature of just a loop of rope, is basically the same as the hatred experienced by graphic artists because of a reason. Being literally hanged for simply existing in society while being black is clearly parallel to being figuratively hanged as an artist in some way for something possibly having to do with mistakes, which you would understand if you were an artist. And most important, they meant no harm by it, which automatically means that no harm was done, because that’s the way intent works.

So stop bullying them, people! You don’t understand art! And the world will continue to stay ugly if we don’t stop the hate. It’s up to us.

N.B. Blah blah blah First Amendment blah blah freedom of expression blah blah ART blah. No one’s denying these turdbuckets’ rights to produce and use that image. People are just calling them turdbuckets for doing it.

Policeman arraigned in murder of Akai Gurley

So, finally a police officer has been indicted in the shooting death of an unarmed black man: Peter Liang is being indicted on charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and two counts of official misconduct.

This is of course “good” news. But I can’t help but notice that the one cop actually to face charges is one who’s not white. And I can’t buy that it’s a coincidence.

Liang is pleading not guilty and released by the judge on his own recognizance.

Three young Muslim students murdered

I’ve been trying to find a good link for this story on and off all morning, but I can’t. I’m pulling together what I’m reading off my Twitter feed. If anybody has a good link, please leave it in comments and I’ll add it to the post.

Update: here’s a link, with thanks to Pseudonym.

So apparently an aggressive white atheist by the name of Craig Stephen Hicks murdered three Muslim students at Chapel Hill yesterday, newlyweds Deah Barakat, 23, a second-year student in UNC’s School of Dentistry, and Yusor Mohammad, 21, who was going to enter dental school in the fall. Mohammad’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, a sophomore in college, was visiting them and also murdered.

I’m not getting a whole lot of information here, but I think it’s quite telling that despite Facebook posts denouncing both radical Muslims and radical Christians, Hicks chose to go after young Muslim students who seem to have been devoted to good works, traveling to provide free dental care to those in need, etc. That’s what it means to live in an atmosphere of Islamophobia, aided and abetted by those in US government.