“Roll Red Roll” Shows How The Steubenville Rape Case Became An International Story

by Erika W. Smith

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than five years since a rape case in Steubenville, Ohio made national—and international—news. The new documentary Roll Red Roll, directed by Nancy Schwartzman and premiering at Tribeca Film Festival, revisits the Steubenville rape case, tracing what we know about what happened that night; examining how and why the rape case made international news; and exploring the state of rape culture then and now.

Schwartzman tells the story through interviews with people involved in the rape case, as well as law enforcement; lawyers; reporters; witnesses; Steubenville High School students; residents of Steubenville; activists; and others. No one gets more screen time than crime blogger Alexandria Goddard, who found evidence of the rape on social media and posted it on her blog, Prinnified—bringing what seemed at first just another rape case to statewide, then national, then international attention.

Schwartzman uses these social media posts—as well as a video of members of the football team later leaked by Anonymous—to harrowing effect, retracing the night through the football team’s jokes about the “dead girl.” There was an audible gasp in the press screening I attended when the documentary showed an Instagram photo of two football players carrying an unconscious Jane Doe, posted by another football player with the caption “sloppy.”

Roll Red Roll shows how the abundance of social media evidence and the subsequent involvement of Anonymous made this a new type of rape case—but she also goes beyond that, examining what the Steubenville rape case says about the state of rape culture. With a few exceptions, the Steubenville residents Schwartzman interviews—both women and men—express some form of victim-blaming, whether that’s two high school girls suggesting that Jane Doe has to take some responsibility for her rape because she went to the party, or an older man looking back at the good old days when a football player could rape a girl and get a suspension for it, not jail time. The footage from an Anonymous-led Occupy Steubenville protest show a different side of rape culture—one in which people have simply had enough. Several women spontaneously shared their own rape stories, some with striking similarities to Jane Doe’s.

Roll Red Roll is often hard to watch, but Schwartzman handles the subject matter with respect, grace, insight, and even hope. Through the lens of the Steubenville rape case, Roll Red Roll shows that society is finally beginning to take rape and rape culture seriously—and how far we still have to go. 4/5

photo: Roll Red Roll

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