POV on PBS – Roll Red Roll

POV is the longest running documentary series on U.S. television. That should tell you something about the quality you are bound to find here. Such is the case with Roll Red Roll which opens POV’s 32nd season.

After the documentary premiered last year at the Tribeca and Hot Docs Film Festivals PBS recognized the importance of having as large an audience as possible see it. Right decision as the subject matter here is vital. And heartbreaking.

Heartbreaking because of the circumstances and the fact that this probably happens more than we would like to believe. That plus the fact that it asks the important question: “Why didn’t anyone stop it?” Shines a light on the power and dyfunction that surrounds high school football in large swatches of the United States.

At a pre-season party in the small Ohio town of Steubenville, a crime of a horrifying nature took place. Several members of the high school football team assaulted a highly intoxicated teenage girl.

The film, directed by Nancy Schwartzman (first feature length documentary), goes through every little detail of what happened on that night and even afterwards. What becomes more and more clear as we move on through the 80 minute film, is that rape culture is an inherent part of the horrible crime. I, as a woman, am quite aware of that, but what I was introduced to was how large a part social media had to play in the assault and its aftermath.

Because of the nature of the crime, the international media took hold of the story. This attention played into the fact that the two were charged and found guilty. It was almost not the case, though.

Bullying and adults looking the other way is why the two players who committed the rape and assault almost got away with it. A crime blogger, Alexandria Goddard, also began to write about what happened in Steubenville and drew attention to the crime. She unearthed plenty of evidence about what went on via social media. As a result, it could not longer be ignored or covered up. Her ability to get the evidence brought forth questions of collusion and why the police could not have done the same?

Teenage witnesses and others not involved in the actual incident began a campaign to discredit the victim. That along with adults, teachers and administrators at the high school who also seemed to want to cover the whole thing up. A “boys will be boys” mentality cropped up to defend what went on and the victim was portrayed as someone who put herself in the position of this happening along with someone of loose morals. Slut shaming played a huge part.

We begin to realize how pervasive the mentality illustrated in the film is. Especially in small towns in which high school (or other educational levels) football is worshipped to a dangerous level. Toxic masculinity and rape culture is shown to be at dangerous levels. Insightful looks at this occur here. I really appreciated how the victim was not the focal point rather it was the perpetrators and those around protecting them.

Definitely not an easy watch. At points I felt rather sick to my stomach about what went on and the behaviour of those around it afterwards. Shows how much work we still have to do in regards to victim shaming, especially when that victim is a woman. Also, you will think differently about social media and the dangers of it after having seen Roll Red Roll.

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