Rape in Film

Rape as an act of violence has been a controversial subject of debate in the film industry for decades. According to Sarah Projansky, an Associate Professor at the Department of Gender & Women's Studies and the Unit for Cinema Studies at the University of Illinois, women characters who are raped in films often use this as a turning point to become more powerful and independent in their lives. Rape in movies is often presented as "rough" or erotic sex.

The film Irreversible, starring Monica Belluci, caused outrage when it was released in 2002 and 250 members of the audience left the cinema hall when it was shown in Cannes, with some requiring treatment for shock. However, the British Board of Film Classification for the film was passed by the censors as uncut. The BBFC referred to the explicit scene in the film as "a harrowing and vivid portrayal of the brutality of rape" but added it "was satisfied that no issue of harm arose in the context of a cinema release for adult viewing only."

An interesting point concerning rape in films is how the audience views the incident when the involved parties had a previous relationship. Louise McOrmond-Plummer and Dr. Patricia Easteal explain in their book Real Rape Real Pain: Help for Women Sexually Assaulted by Male Partners (2006), that a common attitude is that there must have been consent if the people involved had been in a relationship previously: "Rape by somebody you have been sexually intimate with is often not seen as ‘real' rape. Society takes the dangerously limited view that ‘real' rape happens in alleyways or parks; the rapist is a lunatic stranger and the victim must be a virgin of impeccable reputation. Such attitudes are based on the premise that having given initial consent, a woman is not free to withdraw it."

The dramatic movie Lipstick directed by Lamont Johnson in 1976 is notorious in film history as it contains one of the most famous graphic rape scenes. The film is about beautiful fashion model Chris who is brutally raped. She brings the attacker Gordon Stuart to court. When Stuart is found not guilty he comes back to rape her sister and Chris shoots him herself. Lipstick examines the issue of women having to deal with social attitudes around rape and the assumption that the victim is for some reason to blame for the assault.

The film Thelma & Louise, released in 1991, is another good example of a movie containing a rape scene which raises important questions about the relationships between feminism and rape. In this movie, about an American waitress and a housewife and their experiences on a road trip there is a scene when they shoot a rapist. Thelma & Louise criticizes rape and rape culture and offers self-defence as a viable response to sexual assault.

The rape revenge film I Spit on Your Grave has been condemned by prominent film critics for its graphic violence and lengthy depictions of gang rape. The movie was created in 1978 but later remade in 2010. The film was classified in 2010 as one of TIME's Top 10 Ridiculously Violent Movies. The film is banned in many countries such as Ireland, Iceland, Norway and West Germany, as it is believed that it glorifies violence against women.

Meir Zarchi, script writer of I Spit on Your Grave argues that the violence was a necessary element to tell the story. English journalist Julie Bindel explains in an article for The Guardian: "I Spit on Your Grave is exploitative but at least it does not present the criminal justice system as a friend to women. The revenge meted out in the movie is something men should fear. It does not rely on the law of the land but on a woman being pushed too far and deciding enough is enough."

French rape film Baise-moi, or also known as Rape Me in English, was released in 2000. It was widely discussed in the media due to its graphic mix of violence and sex. The State Council of France revoked the license required for the movie to be shown in French theaters because of its brutal plot. The film tells the story of two young women, marginalised by society, who go on a destructive tour of sex and violence, breaking norms and killing men.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Reverence, Rape, Resistance: Joyce Carol Oates and Feminist Film Theory
Wesley, Marilyn C.
Mosaic (Winnipeg), Vol. 32, No. 3, September 1999
Public Expressions of "Progress" in Discourses of the Big Dan's Rape
Cuklanz, Lisa M.
Women and Language, Vol. 17, No. 1, Spring 1994
Desperate Deeds, Desperate Men: Gender, Race, and Rape in Silent Feature Films, 1915-1927
Shrock, Joel.
The Journal of Men's Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1, Fall 1997
`Let's Get Her': Masculinities and Sexual Violence in Contemporary Australian Drama and Its Film Adaptations. (Warring Bodies)
Boman, Christine.
Journal of Australian Studies, January 2003
Insights from Film into Violence and Oppression: Shattered Dreams of the Good Life
John P. Lovell.
Praeger Publishers, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Exploring Sexual and Political Domination through Film"
Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies
Stephen Prince.
University of Texas Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of rape in film begins on p. 74
Cracks in the Pedestal: Ideology and Gender in Hollywood
Philip Green.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of rape in film begins on p. 133
The Cinematic Imagination: Indian Popular Films as Social History
Jyotika Virdi.
Rutgers University Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: "Rape and the Rape Threat" begins on p. 159
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