More than once over the past month, I’ve said something along the lines of, “I want just one day where I don’t have to read, write, and think about rape.” Whether it’s reading about one of the countless famous men who have been accused of sexual assault in the past month, or browsing through Netflix trying to figure out if the show I’m considering binge-watching will use rape as a pointless and quickly forgotten plot device, sometimes it feels like it’s impossible to consume media of any kind without being confronted with rape. But even there are so many rape scenes in movies and TV, it’s so rare to see a story about rape that’s done right, that when it does, I want to tell everyone to go see that film. And The Light Of the Moon is that film.
Written and directed by Australian filmmaker Jessica M. Thompson — it’s her first feature — The Light Of The Moon stars Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz as Bonnie, a young architect living in Brooklyn who, when walking home after a night out drinking with friends, is attacked and raped. This happens before the ten-minute mark. The next hour and twenty minutes focus on what happens after — something that’s so rarely seen onscreen. We follow Bonnie as she decides to report the rape; sees her relationships with her boyfriend, her best friend, and her coworkers change; avoids, and then begins going to group therapy; and navigates the infuriating legal system — as seen here in this clip that we’re excited to premiere.
I called Beatriz to speak about the film shortly before it premiered last week.
It seems like this movie is coming out at a time when sexual assault is in the news constantly. What’s it been like to see this happening while promoting this movie?
I’ve had a couple journalists say, “This movie is coming at such a timely moment.” And yeah, we’re at a point now where every other day — every other minute — it’s like, “Oh, another one.” There was even a hashtag trending [#MeToo], where it wasn’t just movie stars or strangers, it was people that you know all over Facebook talking about the things that have happened to them.
We’re all sitting up and listening right now, but this stuff happened way before everyone started talking about it. This is a systemic problem that we’ve been dealing with for a long, long, long time. Arguably, we are very late to the party — this movie should have been made a long, long time ago. Unfortunately, again, it’s a systemic problem — women weren’t necessarily allowed to have that voice. [Director] Jessica [M. Thompson] wouldn’t have been able to make this film before; it’s been an old boys’ club for such a long time. It’s only recently that women have come into their own power and have decided that they’re going to try, come hell or high water, to tell their own stories, and to tell other people’s stories as well.
Was it important to you to work with a woman director to tell this story?
The reason I read the script initially was that I knew it was a female writer/director. The rape in the film happens pretty early on, and the rest of the film focuses on how she deconstructs and reconstructs her life. When I was reading the script and I came to the rape scene, I thought, “Okay, well, how is this going to be shot? How is it going to be handled?” Because most of the time we get rape scenes that are pretty highly sexualized; it’s rare that they are focused on what a painful and violent act it is.
Speaking to Jessica about it set my mind at ease, because I knew she was going to handle it in the most respectful, honest way that she could as a storyteller. It also really set my mind at ease that our director of photography, Autumn Eaken, was a woman, as well. You really feel like you are in the room with Bonnie and Matt [Bonnie’s boyfriend, played by Michael Stahl-David] a lot of the time, and it’s really due to her amazing camerawork and Jessica’s direction. The day that we shot the rape scene, I felt very taken care of by the two of them. It felt like a really safe environment in which to act out a very violent, dangerous thing.
What did they do to make you feel taken care of?
Jess got a fight choreographer for the rape scene, so every beat of it was planned out. We knew where everyone’s hands and bodies were going to be, we knew when every step was going to happen. We had a very safe foundation to work within.
We also had a skeleton crew that day; only the people that day who were necessary to film the scene were there, and by the time we got to that scene, I felt like I knew the people I was working with. Jess created a safe environment for the actors as well as everyone on crew, too, because, let's face it, it’s a really traumatic thing to capture on film. And you think about the odds — the CDC says that one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped in their lifetime — so if you’ve got a crew of 12 people, there are probably a couple people on that set that have been raped or sexually assaulted.
There are a lot of movies with rape scenes, but it’s so rare for a movie to focus so much on the aftermath and recovery. Were there things you did to prepare for that?
Jess did a lot of research when she developing and writing the script. She interviewed so many people to hear their stories and to get the vibe of, like, what it’s like at the hospital afterwards, what kinds of questions they ask you, what kinds of things are done to you in the examination room after the rape. And I know quite a few rape survivors personally; some are very close personal friends.
But I didn’t go into the research, because for me — and this is just for me — coming at it as an actor, I wanted to live in each moment of telling the story as if it was the first moment I was experiencing it. Because for Bonnie it is, right? Bonnie’s just living her life like a regular woman, like any of us, and then this horrible thing happens to her, and then it’s all new every step of the way. I wanted to bring all that to the performance.
I love how angry and pissed off Bonnie is — I feel like that happens a ton in real life but not onscreen.
When you’ve got women writing women, a lot of times you get more complex characters, because we know ourselves. There are lots and lots of complex male characters because men have been given more time to write themselves, and women have not. Jessica Chastain said this great thing on Twitter — [“Every time someone writes that I play 'strong women' what they're implying is that most women aren’t. How about I just play well written parts? You never read that an actor is known for playing 'strong male' characters because it's assumed all men are."].
Isn’t that such a weird thing, that we assume that female characters can’t be strong, or combative, or tough, or wounded, or wounded in a tough way? Human beings are complex, and women are complex. And sometimes we’re real assholes. Sometimes we’re not capable of being graceful. And that’s real. I think I’d be so pissed off if something like that happened to me. That’s part of Bonnie’s journey, and I think it’s part of many women’s journeys. We get pissed, and we’re allowed to be pissed.
You have an executive producer credit. What did that mean for you to take on that role?
It meant that I was much more involved. Granted, this is the first big thing I’ve ever really done; I’ve done a few movies before, but I’d never been the lead on something, and I’d certainly never produced something. I was involved in spreading the word about the movie, as well as behind-the-scenes stuff, down to “Is this font okay for the poster?” This was really a growing experience for me. The next time I do it, I want to be even more involved. I learned that I like being in control. I mean, I already knew that about myself, but I like being in control! This time was like a little taste of what I hope it feels like next time I’m an executive producer.
Do you want to direct as well?
I really, really want to direct. I’ve been working on Brooklyn Nine-Nine now for five seasons, which means I’ve been on those stages watching the work for 100 episodes. I know more than I think I do. When I was in college, I wanted to direct plays, because I could just see a picture in my mind of how I would like it to look, and where I would like the actors to move. And at the same time, I’m pretty good at feeling people’s energy, like in a rehearsal room.
We need to see more women directors, period. And women of color — don’t even get me started. There’s such a lack in the industry. When you look at the success of people like Reese Witherspoon — she’s on my vision board, I’m not even embarrassed to say that I have one — girlfriend is killing it. Big Little Lies has five lead characters, and they’re all women. She’s finding projects she wants to do, she’s finding projects she wants to star in, and she’s finding projects that focus on women’s lives.
The Light Of The Moon is currently plyaing in NYC at The IFC Center and opens in LA on 11/17. Watch the trailer below:
Photo & Video Credit: Imagination Worldwide / The Film Collaborative
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Erika W. Smith is BUST's digital editorial director. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @erikawynn and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.