Two years ago, producer Amy Ziering and director Kirby Dick released an unflinching documentary that exposed a culture of sexual violence and rape in the US military and the institutional bureaucracy that was either designed or manipulated to ignore, mishandle, and ostracize those who challenged that culture.
Now, the filmmakers have turned to another “invisible war” — sexual violence and rape on the college campus and the institutional bureaucracy that is either designed or manipulated to ignore, mishandle, and ostracize those who challenge that culture.
I wish this was just a case of Hollywood unoriginality like fast and furious car movies: sheesh, movies these days are all remakes and sequels, right? But, reality. Two documentaries in two years from the same two filmmakers about the same type of systemic failures to address rape is not the fault of a lack of creativity, but of the continued acceptance of rape culture.
Invisible War (2012)
Recently there has been a real good media frenzy over rates and statistics of campus sexual assault and the reactions from school administration that range from ignorant bungling to malicious faux ignorance. From performance art, like Emma Sulkowicz and her dorm mattress, to the Obama administration’s It’s On Us campaign, campuses have been under scrutiny like never before. Currently, 85 colleges are under federal investigation for how they handle sexual assault cases including Marlboro College in Vermont, Valparaiso University in Indiana, Grand Valley State University in Michigan, Drake University in Iowa, and California Institute of the Arts. According to Title IX, schools that receive any form of federal funding are obligated to address and eliminate sexual assault on campus.
It is probably not news to you that college students are particularly vulnerable to rape and assault, but a more complete understanding of the problem must include the infrastructure that supports its continuation. That is, the college-industrial complex: the recent revelations that colleges, eager to protect their reputation and revenue stream, regularly pepper investigations with victim blaming and rarely conclude with serious repercussions for the perpetrator (here is how one college handled a sexual assault complaint).
The similarities between campus ineptitude and military malfeasance are striking. Next year’s untitled film will follow a similar format as Ziering and Dick’s previous collaboration: collecting and following personal stories of individuals who have experienced sexual assault and the failure of their university to appropriately address it. According to the press release, “Several survivors will come forward with their stories to their families and school administrations in the film.”
After Invisible War won acclaim at Sundance Film Festival, Ziering and Dick began to target a specific audience by holding private screenings for retired generals, active-duty officers, officers’ wives’ clubs and veterans groups, corporate leaders and nonprofit leaders. Quickly after the release of the film, the military saw policy overhauls, staff changes, and an overall reckoning for military justice systems. If it can have a similar impact on the structures that perpetuate campus assault and rape culture, the next film can’t come soon enough to join the many other voices criticizing those structures.
Images via Indiewire, Invisible War, New York Magazine, The Nation