There are so many films about sexual assault that it’s almost become its own genre. Lots of them focus on the assault itself, or on the victim’s quest for revenge. To close out Sexual Assault Awareness Month, however, I’m focusing largely on films that offer a richer and more inclusive message about sexual assault awareness, have a more preventative slant or tell a story about survival and healing.
If you’re tired of marathoning Law and Order: SVU episodes, make your way through these 10 films:
1. Black Snake Moan (2006)
Black Snake Moan is not the most feminist film. However, it includes a subtle, powerful message about what it means to be a victim and a survivor. Black Snake Moan was marketed as some sort of sexy Tarantino grindhouse feature (even though Tarantino didn’t direct it and I doubt it would be shown in a grindhouse theater). Watch this film with an open mind, enjoy the stylization and remember how deeply flawed we all truly are.
2. Rashomon (1950)
Being a film-school alum, I have watched, written and read all about Rashomon. It’s supposed to be a classic. A sort of benchmark in storytelling and redefining of the multiple-perspective narrative. However, its core plot is about a rape and crime, told from three different perspectives. Yet again, the woman is either the victim or the harlot. I thought it played rather unfairly throughout — and that’s keeping in mind that this is a film from 1950s Japan. The fact that it is still a celebrated cultural icon is why it’s important to watch it for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
3. The Quiet (2005)
As long as you can ignore the obvious and pseudo-complex narration, The Quiet is actually a powerful movie about bystander intervention, trust and the adolescent confusion. Camilla Belle stars as Dot, a newly orphaned deaf-mute teenager who comes to live with her godparents and their daughter Nina (Elisha Cuthbert). She soon finds out about the incestuous relationship between Nina and her father. Watch out for all of the patriarchal moments that exacerbate Nina’s trauma and how the relationship changes between Nina and Dot.
4. Precious (2009)
This film definitely handles the subject of ongoing incest in a much more sophisticated way than The Quiet — and it contains a full cast of incredible actors of color! In an interview for the New York Times after Precious’ premiere at Cannes, director Lee Daniels said he was concerned that the film would portray Black people in a negative light. However, the film is so masterfully acted and directed, it creates true art from its dark subject matter. Through the contrasts, we can see how class affects sexual assault survivors while also recognizing that at its core, it’s all the same.
5. Swept Away (1974)
This is the version to see: the 1974 Italian version, directed by Lina Wertmüeller. It’s chock full political commentary and the varying experiences of sexual assault. One of the lead characters on the boat is a wealthy capitalist white lady, Raffaella. Her constant political talk offends her openly Communist deckhands — in particular, Gennarino. They get shipwrecked and have to survive together on a deserted island. Both Raffaella and Gennarino are physically attracted to each other, but how that manifests on the island is truly something to watch.
6. The Hateful Eight (2015)
One of Quentin Tarantino’s most beautifully shot films, The Hateful Eight is old-timey, lush and almost seems to come from another world. If the Western genre is considered American history, then The Hateful Eight is the inappropriate, drawn-out anecdote you wish your Great Grandfather would stop telling during holidays. Why should you watch this for Sexual Awareness Month? Those who have seen the film already know. So I don’t spoil it, I will just say: let’s not forget that sexual assault happens between cis males too.
7. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
Now that you’ve got a taste for Tarantino, get nostalgic over Kill Bill Vol. 1. If you’ve seen it, you remember how much you loved it — or hated it. What you may not remember (because even after repeated viewings, I certainly didn’t) is that (spoiler alert!) Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) gets raped while in a coma. Repeatedly. For FOUR YEARS.
8. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Kimberly Pierce’s Earth-shattering portrayal of transgender man Brandon Teena is poignant and shocking. Be ready. With fantastic performances by Hillary Swank (Teena) and Chloe Sevigny, Boys Don’t Cry features sexuality across a spectrum. Pierce made sure the screenplay would be realistic and logical, having Sevingy’s character fall in love with Teena as a trans man, and then defend him. At its core, the film is about identity and falling in love. However, hatred, ignorance and intolerance always makes those things much harder to attain.
9. American History X (1998)
American History X may be one of the most quintessential films about the consequences of hate and the power of rehabilitation. It’s full of triggers, and definitely not the easiest film to watch. The film follows the prison stay of neo-Nazi Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) and shows how, after he’s released, he tries to stop his younger brother from following the same path. What changed Derek? The sexual assault he survived in prison.
10. Hard Candy (2005)
The revenge film takes many forms and Hard Candy is an especially poetic one. Inspired by true stories of teen girls seducing older men and then mugging them, the film tells the story of precocious Hayley (Ellen Page) luring Jeff (Patrick Wilson) into a twisted psychological game of one-upsmanship. Their shared journey is gripping and stylized. Don’t forget to breathe.