The Best Documentaries Of 2016: Rape Culture


Note: click on the links below to watch trailers and find out where these films are available.

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Guess what was a hot topic this year (again)?  Of course that effected what I saw and paid attention to this year, whether I was watching something new or revisiting stories from the past.

Girl 27 – It has been nearly ten years since I’ve seen this documentary and read its companion piece in Vanity Fair, but it’s never left me.  In 1937 twenty-year-old Patricia Douglas, a contracted dancer for MGM, filed charges of rape against a man who attacked her at a party thrown by the studio.  What happened afterwards?  An anonymous source put it bluntly: “They had her killed.”

Anita: Speaking Truth To Power – Anita Hill was called to testify on instances of sexual harassment in an intensely uncomfortable limelight.  It was during a time where harassment wasn’t publicly confronted or a household term, so to say the least her testimony changed our country and the workplace.  What’s compelling about this doc is how Hill isn’t and never was a martyr, continuing her career as an activist, attorney, writer and commentator on gender and race issues.  Her composure and reiteration of the truth is just as strong today as it was fifteen years ago.

The Invisible War and The Hunting Ground – Kirby Dick has directed two documentaries on instances of sexual violence in the military and on college campuses.  They’re as thorough as they were controversial, but leave the issues fully exposed and open ended, calling for acknowledgement, reform and change in both of these institutions.

Audrie & Daisy – This Netflix-produced documentary highlights the cases of Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, two teenage girls who were raped and cyberbullied after their assaults.  The stories diverge from one another quite quickly, but both involve the various ways they suffered at the hands of their peers, neighbors, elders and communities.  By the end it’s clear there is a long way to go in protecting and offering support to victims when they’re at their most vulnerable.

An Open Secret – This is the third time Amy J. Berg’s work has appeared here (she also directed Janis: Little Girl Blue and Prophet’s Prey).  This time she revisits sexual abuse of boys in a loose follow-up to Deliver Us From Evil (2006), exploring stories of child actors who were exploited by men in the entertainment industry.  Like Dick’s films or Audrie & DaisySecret calls for action and awareness, even if it goes as far as watching this documentary and never seeing the dream factory of Los Angeles the same way again.  After all, once you see a pedophile ring operating in the open it’s kind of hard to ignore it.

Pervert Park – This documentary is different from the others since it profiles perpetrators rather than the victims, even though several were victims themselves.  The setting is Florida Defense Transitions trailer park, in which 120 sex offenders are trying to reform themselves while confronting their pasts, their crimes and their damaged futures.  It’s a tough but compassionate piece of work, giving a face to those who recognize what they’ve done and want to be someone better.  Although it isn’t necessarily a part of the rape culture conversation, it is an unanticipated antidote: people who have committed the crime speaking against what many others ignore.


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