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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Roll Red Roll is a documentary about a notorious 2012 rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, that raises timely, important questions about the ideas of rape culture and the dangerous nature of the "boys will be boys" mentality. The violent acts that were performed on the teenage victim's unconscious body are discussed using terms such as "digital penetration"; the crime itself isn't shown, except for a photo in which the girl is being carried by her attackers (her face and body are blurred out). Viewers do see cell phone video from the night of the crime, in which onlookers and their friends laugh and say very vulgar things about the assault, the victim's body parts, and rape in general. Women are called "whore," "ho," and "slut," and teens joke about "training" her (i.e., more than one boy having sex with her in a row) and her being dead. Multiple people question the victim for drinking heavily and say she was "promiscuous." Unseen women describe their own rapes in disturbing audio recordings. Language is often crude and sexual: Expect to hear many variations on "f--k" (meaning sex, or in the case of the Steubenville victim, rape), as well as vulgar words for body parts ("butthole," "wang"). Alcohol played an important role in the Steubenville case; teens aren't punished for drinking or asked how they got alcohol. One interviewee smokes cigarettes.
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What's the story?
ROLL RED ROLL takes a close look at a crime most people likely only know from lurid headlines: In 2012, a 16-year-old girl was raped by two high school football players. She reported the assault; law enforcement began investigating. But behind the scenes, the peers she thought she knew and trusted were mocking her cruelly over social media -- and when the police got to them, they feverishly orchestrated a cover-up. When school administrators did nothing to punish or stop the perpetrators, a crime blogger dug into the story. What she found out about Steubenville and football's place in rape culture ignited a furious debate over the public's sympathy for rapists over victims. Using authentic audio and video footage from the night of the crime (and the investigation that followed) as well as screenshots of the many, many social media posts and texts related to the case, filmmaker Nancy Schwartzman pieces together the victim's story -- and why it meant so much to so many.
Is it any good?
This solid post-#MeToo documentary illuminates the facts of an infamous case, delivering a stinging indictment of rape culture. In 2012, Steubenville was a town without pity for Jane Doe, at least according to interviews with locals and infuriating audio from a local radio personality, who said things like "these girls get intoxicated, they get promiscuous." Then, of course, there are the infamous texts and social media posts of the Steubenville teens who were either there or saw the posts, videos, and pictures from the night and replied that the victim got "trained," that she was "sloppy," and that "some people deserve to be peed on." In a pre-social media era, Jane Doe's terrible night might have played out without the world noticing; in fact, the blogger who first broke the story wonders tearfully at one point whether, by publicizing the victim's plight, she was helping her -- or whether she was just another one of her exploiters.
Those who read the 2012 news stories will already be familiar with the callousness of the girl's attackers and peers -- in fact, the social media "paper" trail was one of the most buzzed-about aspects of the case. But watching Roll Red Roll's video that shows onlookers laughing and joking about a girl who was, at the exact same moment, naked and unconscious in a basement ringed with boys who had bad intentions, absolutely has the power to shock and disgust. Even more viscerally upsetting is the audio captured during a Steubenville anti-rape rally. Woman after woman describes being held down, drugged, and abused, along with the aftermath: being blamed for her own rape, afraid and alone. The contrast between the laughing victimizers and the pained victims is appallingly clear, sending a powerful message about the need for change.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether Roll Red Roll presents a fair picture of Steubenville and the crime that happened there. Is it trying to be objective? Is that important for a documentary? Is this film trying to inform? Persuade? Entertain?
The blogger who broke the Steubenville story cries at one point during an interview, wondering whether she did the right thing reporting the case, from the victim's point of view. What do you think: Was bringing attention to the case ultimately good for Jane Doe?
Alcohol played a major role in the Steubenville case. How did alcohol contribute to the crime? What does the law say about incapacitation and sexual consent? Why do you think none of these teens were questioned about their alcohol use?
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