The representation of rape on screen

Representation has been front and center of media debates and cultural criticism for the past years – and rightly so. Video essays have addressed this topic in various ways, from gender clich├ęs in video games over stereotypical representations of women to the way prisoners are depicted. This piece by Lucie Emch (SOAS, University of London) published by Tecmerin is a fine addition to that growing body of video essays. It deals with a very specific and very troublesome subset of on-screen representations of violence: that of rape.

 

“Representations of violence [against women] with a male gaze too often blur the boundaries of responsibility,” Emch states. Even worse, rape is often not even recognizable (or recognized) as such in films made from the dominant male perspective. That is why it is time, Emch follows up with Laure Murat’s words, “that we exercise our critical sense on the promotion of rape – even if only to arouse the disgust of the spectator”.

 

The video essay starts off in a conventional way, laying out its topic and premise and referring to important classic (Laura Mulvey) and contemporary (Iris Brey) texts on the subject. Emch then brings another medium into the debate: the music video. That the male gaze also runs rampant in music videos is obvious for anyone who’s ever watched MTV for a quarter of an hour. And yet there are examples to the contrary. Emch focuses on one of those: the award-winning music video for Jenny Wilson’s RAPIN*.

 

This video essay really hits its stride when it mashes up the aforementioned music video (from 2018) with Ida Lupino’s film Outrage (from 1950). The expertly executed crosscutting puts its finger on several (sometimes inconvenient) truths. It shows that addressing rape from a female perspective is not an option we’ve only recently grown aware of, but that this approach was always within the realm of possibilities (it was just the road not chosen). It shows that the female gaze is not just a specific narrative and visual point of view, but can also be a function of tone and technique. And it shows that violence does not have to be exploited visually or depicted realistically for it to be experienced as horrific. The mash-up effectively and affectively illustrates all these points, and it does so even better than the closing argument this video essay borrows from Outrage.