Trigger Warning Sparks Conversations on Rape Culture

by | February 2, 2013
filed under Feminism

triggerwarningby Jarrah Hodge

23-year-old New Jersey filmmaker Nicole Louise Melleby has made it a mission to get people to see and question the rape culture we live in. Her new film Trigger Warning documents the interactions of different groups of young people to examples of rape jokes in popular culture and uses interviews with experts to contextualize the problem.

I interviewed Nicole via email about what prompted her to take on this project and where she hopes it goes.

Ever since she was little, Melleby was interested in storytelling: observing the people and stories happening around her. A couple of years into college she decided to focus on film, because: “With film, I can see my work come alive. While I find the art of writing beautiful in itself, the whole process of filmmaking, for me, takes it to another level. I got my degree in TV/Film, and with it learned how to take a story and bring it to life.”

A few years ago she was watching a TV show with a friend:

“And there was an emotional storyline involving one of my favorite characters. She was being blamed for something, and my friend stopped and went: ‘That’s not right. She did nothing wrong.’ That was the first time I was introduced properly to rape culture…My friend showed me different articles and information regarding what rape culture was, and while it shocked me, it did not surprise me. This was information I knew my entire life, but never really sat to think about the implications of it…As a filmmaker, it became my goal to help open the eyes of other people who may not have really understood what rape culture was.”

She decided to refine her focus to documentary filmmaking in order to tackle this issue. After she got the go-ahead from her program, she spent one semester planning and researching and the next filming. She recruited students from her brother’s high school for one group of interviewees, as well as kids from her campus. Her professor also introduced her to Rochelle Keyhan from Hollaback! And through the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape she met Liz Zadnik. Both Zadnik and Keyhan agreed to be interviewed.

I asked Nicole if there was anything that surprised her doing the interviews. She said:

The boy with the red hat in the college men group surprised me the most. He does a lot of standup comedy, and I’ve heard him make rape jokes before (he even let us hear one during the interview) so I was worried he would be the big support of freedom of speech in comedy. However, he ended up having a lot of really great things to say. He contradicted himself a few times while we were filming, but by the end of the interview, I feel as though he really got a lot out of the experience.

After the shooting was done, Nicole and a small team of film students from her class got down to the painstaking work of editing the film to what you can watch today.

Now they’re trying to make sure their message goes beyond their campus. So far she’s encouraged by the feedback. The film is now a part of the Violence Against Women 365 International Poster Exhibition and is being shown as part of programs at the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre.

“I really want the film to get exposure. I want people to see the film, and start thinking about the issue at hand. To do this, my team and I have been contacting different sexual abuse and women’s organizations about the film, as well as entering as many film festivals as we can,” said Melleby.

She realizes to get the film out, they need support. Nicole and her team are asking for people to let them know of any organizations focused on sexual abuse or violence against women, if they might be interested in using the film. But they are also looking for funding to help cover the costs of submitting to film festivals, which can run anywhere from $20-$100. If you want to help you can visit the donate page on their website. However, there are other ways to help:

“For those who can’t, we ask that people start talking about the film. Talk about rape culture. We want people to start understanding that rape jokes are never okay, and we want to try and start making a change,” says Melleby. You can also spread the word on social media. Find and “Like” Trigger Warning on Facebook to start.

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