At a high school pre-season party in small-town Steubenville, Ohio, a heinous crime took place: the assault of a teenage girl by members of the beloved high school football team. As it painstakingly reconstructs the night of the crime and its aftermath, Roll Red Roll (www.rollredrollfilm.com)
uncovers the ingrained rape culture at the heart of the incident, acting as a cautionary tale about what can happen when teenage social media bullying runs rampant and adults look the other way.
Directed by Nancy Schwartzman, winner of seven documentary feature awards, and nominated for the Cinema Eye Honors Spotlight Award, Roll Red Roll had its national broadcast and streaming debut on the PBS documentary series POV and pov.org on Monday, June 17. POV, American television’s longest-running independent documentary series, kicked-off its 32nd season with Schwartzman’s investigative film.
The film is now streaming globally on Netflix: https://www.netflix.
What transpired in Steubenville went on to garner international media attention and resulted in the sentencing of two key offenders; but it was the disturbing social media evidence uncovered by crime blogger Alexandria Goddard, that provoked the most powerful questions about collusion. Not only did teen witnesses and bystanders discredit the victim, but teachers, parents and coaches seemed to protect the assailants. With unprecedented access, the film shares text messages, social media posts, police interviews and the unmasked responses of town residents.
Like many communities across the country, Steubenville takes pride in its high school athletics. Talented and promising young male athletes are practically town ambassadors, held in high regard by their classmates and the entire community. So when two of these young men are charged with the rape of another student, the entire social structure of Steubenville is threatened, and a legacy of sexual assault and forced silence spanning years is revealed.
The film looks closely at social media, a tool that turns out to be remarkably malleable depending on which party is involved. For students, social media documents the acts that took place, becoming a platform to engage in callous and desensitized mockery of the crime of rape. Local authorities use evidence gathered online to assist with their investigation of the case, including incriminating tweets and 400,000 text messages. For local crime blogger Alexandria Goddard, social media presents an opportunity to spread awareness about the high school’s toxic “rape culture” where a “boys-will-be-boys” attitude runs rampant. For the rest of the nation, disturbing images, video and dialogue revealed online create a shocking paper trail that anyone—from concerned citizens to hacktivist group Anonymous—can follow.
“In Roll Red Roll it was important that we shift our focus from the victim and the victim’s behavior to where the scrutiny belongs,” said director/producer Nancy Schwartzman. “By looking at the bigger picture, and weaving in the community and cultural context around the details of the assault, we can see the way teens are being socialized and understand that what happened in Steubenville is not an isolated incident, it’s indicative of a much larger societal problem. Stylistically, we crafted the film to appeal to young men in the hopes that they will wake up and take action.”
Roll Red Roll has a robust impact campaign spearheaded by director Nancy Schwartzman, a globally-recognized human rights and anti-violence activist. The campaign is designed to engage men and boys in the conversation and the work to prevent sexual violence. A team of organizers is working with key partners in the athletic arena, and highlighting male advocates who actively challenge “boys will be boys” and other harmful norms around masculinity. Crafting teaching tools for coaches, parents and school administrators, the film illuminates the endemic issue from the perspective of those who enact the violence – the perpetrators and bystanders – and provides solutions to recognize patterns and eradicate the behavior.
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