ARGENTINA: Perdida (2018)

Mentiras Sobre Violencia Visual

by Maddie Young

Please read the crafter statement before watching the video essay. Thank you.

Content warning: The statement and video essay discuss topics of sexual assault. The essay includes the story of an experience of sexual assault.

One in four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime (Hercovich). Media has power in affecting the size of this fraction, but often fails to use this power to improve the safety of women. Instead, film and television commonly do the opposite. Portrayals of sexual assault in film translate to a world that is more dangerous for women, contributing to the fear we face every day that we will be in the 25%.

This video essay aims to expose the myth that to fully get across the harm of sexual violence toward women, it needs to be displayed explicitly. I make this claim by telling an impactful audiovisual story about sexual violence without showing any depictions of it, or any violence against women at all. In my video essay, I use audio excerpts from the Ted Talk “Why Women Stay Silent After Sexual Assault” given by Inés Hercovich, a researcher and social psychologist from Argentina. These audio clips play over scenes from the Argentine movie Perdida (2018) that correspond to the story Hercovich tells. The most explicit language from the Ted Talk does not appear in my video essay, nor do any scenes of violence against women.

The omission of depictions of violence against women in my video essay is a criticism that these scenes were included in Perdida in the first place. In particular, this video essay aims to criticize the inclusion of a rape scene in the film. Explicit sexual violence in media can not only traumatize viewers and reinforce violence against women, but it is also wholly unnecessary to tell a compelling story about sexual violence. In fact, the inclusion of sexual violence in cinema weakens media that makes claims about its harms. A more impactful story is told about sexual violence in the absence of its explicit visual depiction. This statement is proven in my video essay, as it demonstrates the harms of sexual violence more successfully than Perdida in just eight minutes. Furthermore, it uses the very same scenes from a psychologically harmful movie to tell a story that challenges the ideas reinforced by the film.

To better understand how Perdida fails to convey the harms of sexual violence, and actually does the opposite, we can look to the evidence, something that producers of Perdida failed to do. Research tells us that after repeated exposure to movies containing sexual violence, men are less likely to be empathetic towards rape victims as a whole, tend to experience lower levels of distress when watching these films (Linz et al., 1988), and become more accepting of rape myths and interpersonal violence against women (Weisz & Earls, 1995; Malamuth & Check, 1981). So, while movies like Perdida may claim they are problematizing sexual violence, in reality, they are desensitizing men to sexual violence and causing them to be more accepting of brutality directed at women. And, while it is true that the scene depicting an explicit rape in Perdida is brief, this does not reduce the damage it inflicts. This is true because even a single instance of exposure to a “dramatized sexual assault” affects how consumers view sexual violence when it moves offline and into reality (Damour, 2019). When a short scene like this has significant negative real-world implications, these implications constitute meaningful evidence the scene should be removed. There are ways in which the briefness of the scene actually creates further questions of why the portrayal of rape was included, given that it could easily be removed without affecting the whole of the movie. It is also the case that the real-world effects of explicit sexual violence in cinema extend beyond just how people think about this violence. Movies not only have power in changing our attitudes, but also how we act. According to Neil Malamuth, a professor at UCLA, sexually violent depictions have the effect of arousing a portion of men that watch them. Although the number of men that are aroused by these scenes of sexual violence may be small, it is still significant. This has particularly bad implications because arousal stemming from sexual violence is an important predictor for actual violence against women (qtd. in Damour, 2019). Images can create ideas that, when transferred off the screen and into minds, make the world a more dangerous place for women to exist in. When weighing the physical safety of women against the inclusion of a scene that can add to a plot or create “drama,” there is no comparison between the two. Given the burden of evidence, there is no excuse for reinforcement of physical, sexual, and psychological violence against women perpetuated by sexually violent depictions in film.

While movies like Perdida are reinforcing violence against women, they are simultaneously traumatizing viewers and those affected by that violence. According to Karyn Riddle, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “Watching sexual violence could be traumatizing, and that fear could stay with [people] for many years,” (qtd. in Darmour, 2019). And, movie and tv representations of sexual violence can trigger negative responses and feelings in survivors of sexual assault, including irritability, sadness, anxiety, and flashbacks (RAINN). Whether or not a viewer has experienced sexual assault, depictions of it in cinema can be traumatizing. When content of films creates intense distress, especially for those who have been affected by topics being discussed, questions should be raised about why it was included in the first place, and whether it should be present at all. Given all of this, there is absolutely no reason for the inclusion of explicit sexual violence in Perdida or any other films and television shows.

Works Cited:

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