RTA film under fire for allegedly sympathizing with perpetrators of sexual assault

Image by Augustine Ng.

A group of RTA students and professors are facing backlash after faculty greenlit a film project where viewers are led to sympathize with a protagonist later revealed to have committed sexual assault.

The film’s creators, third-year media production students Dylan Authors and Joshua Storey, say their idea is well-intentioned, meant to inspire discussion around on-campus sexual assault and portray it honestly. It was pitched on Tuesday as part of a required class for third-year media production students.

But the film’s detractors say the premise of framing the story around the perpetrator is problematic and sympathetic to the wrong side of the story.

Authors said he “saw someone [had] posted online that she was very sickened, that [the film] was a ‘rape narrative’ shown through the eyes of a ‘raper,’ [sic] to quote her.”

“I’m really not trying to offend anybody,” he said.

“I’m just trying to bring awareness to this [issue of sexual assault].”

It does deal with sexual assault, it does, [but] at its core, it’s a psychological thriller.

The film, titled Victim, is a thriller narrated from the perspective of a 22-year-old university student named Sean. The audience meets Sean the night after a party and follows him as he’s stalked and mentally tormented by an anonymous man. Sean is initially meant to be sympathized with as he undergoes the ordeal, until it is revealed that he had sexually assaulted the anonymous man’s girlfriend the night of the party.

When contacted by Folio, Storey said he doesn’t believe the story portrays sexual assault in a positive light and redirected questions to Authors.

Since the film was pitched, the team behind it has undergone changes. Authors and Storey are the only original members still involved. Authors noted that four female students are now involved with the project.

He also said the team plans to do more research to ensure the film handles the issue properly.

“It does deal with sexual assault, it does, [but] at its core, it’s a psychological thriller where this man is stalking this guy and you think that he is the victim the whole time, but he is not,” he said.

“It’s a twist. But that’s what I was going for.”

However, for people like third-year creative industries student Emily Eymundson, the premise of the film prioritizes the wrong group of people.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see that the voice is that of the oppressor, not of the victim,” said Eymundson in a Facebook message. “At this point, severe damage has been done that can’t be reversed. People are hurt, and the people who hurt them should be held accountable.”

If the narrative is going to be [about] sexual assault, it should show some respect to the victim.

Third-year creative industries student Fiona Kenney says that the film silences actual victims of sexual assault while appealing to the emotions of their perpetrators.

“The advisory panel approving this [film] communicates to the entire class that it’s OK for a relatively unaffected group to write about another group’s real-life experiences,” said Kenney in a Facebook message.

“They’ve allowed the story to be told in the rapist’s perspective, quite literally victimizing him and talking about his struggles related to the assault. If the narrative is going to be [about] sexual assault, it should show some respect to the victim and have her plight a more central aspect…it should be less about how his life has been altered,” she said.

Kenney also added that Author and Storey have asked her to look over what they’ve put together so far, which she called a “step in the right direction.”

Kelly Kitagawa, president of the RTA course union and third-year media production student, said the Faculty of Communication and Design needs to be more aware of these issues.

“I think it’s worthy of a conversation, for sure, because I think we have a predominantly white male faculty in FCAD, in RTA, and it’s hard to…stand up to certain decisions that they make, especially when you’re being graded,” she said.

Kitagawa also said she hopes everyone involved takes the time to learn from the experience and take criticism from all sides.

“There was a lot of miscommunication and…things that were blown out of proportion…but I see both sides very clearly and I see how both sides have value to what they thought was happening,” she said.

If students successfully develop their pitches in the class this semester, they may have the opportunity to produce the projects in their fourth year. The five-person advisory panel that approves the pitches at this stage is primarily made up of white males, although there are two women, one of whom is a person of colour.

Rick Grunberg, the lead professor of the class and one of the advisors who greenlit the project, said it’s only been given a conditional go-ahead. If the students involved can’t develop it to address the issues with sensitivity, Victim may not get made.

Grunberg also added that the story was approved because it has the potential to be powerful if the students and their faculty advisors—some of whom are female, he said—can shape it into something that’s for the public interest.

“If it can be shifted into something where…the power is there to make people aware of abuse and what goes on in such circumstances, then it can be a successful story,” said Grunberg.

“The students are actually good students, they’re very good story tellers…they have the opportunity to turn it into something that could be of benefit. And the hope is that it will be.”

Morgan Bocknek, Hanna Lee, Emma McIntosh and Victoria Shariati contributed reporting to this story.