Spoiler alert! The following post is all about the important plot points of the new movie “Luckiest Girl Alive”, so beware if you haven’t seen it yet.
Mila Kunis’ new movie is #1 on Netflix. But it divides viewers with a controversial scene.
“Luckiest Girl Alive,” based on author Jessica Knoll’s 2015 book of the same name, follows Ani FaNelli (Kunis), a seemingly perfect, put-together New Yorker whose trauma – of enduring a gang rape at 14 years old and surviving a high school shooting – begins to unravel. Throughout her life, she was blamed by her own mother, shamed by her classmates and forced to bear the responsibility for her own aggression, in silence.
Kunis’ latest film has garnered widespread support for its sobering depiction of the trauma of rape, which Knoll wrote based on her own experience. However, critics questioned the need for not one, but three graphic rape scenes.
“Don’t watch Luckyest Girl Alive. The scenes are way too triggering,” user @MimieLaushi warned.
“I felt uncomfortable in parts of the film and rightly so because we should feel uncomfortable blaming the victims for what happened,” another user @lalakaris wrote.
The depiction of rape on screen has long been the subject of debate: ‘Game of Thrones’ and, more recently, Netflix’s ‘Blonde’ have both faced backlash for what many have called “exploitative” representations of sexual violence. But if the goal is to accurately describe a survivor’s experience, can these scenes have educational value?
Karyn Riddle, a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studies the effects of viewing violent media. After seeing the film herself, she says the scenes “didn’t feel gratuitous.”
“We know that graphic violence captures people’s attention. It elicits strong emotional responses,” Riddle says. However, “scripts don’t have to be graphic to get their message across. A rape scene doesn’t have to be graphic to learn a positive lesson.”
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How Graphic Rape Scenes Can Trigger Trauma
Unlike some of the criticized moments in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Ani’s sexual assault is a central plot point as she learns to process years of repressed trauma. Knoll, who produced the film and enlisted help from Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for the scenes, said the intention was to show it was “really bad,” without him be necessary to “minimize” his experience.
But even with good intentions, experts have questioned the need several disturbing rape scenes with a total duration of about three minutes. Research shows that just watching an act of sexual violence on screen can be enough to “trigger” neurological trauma reactions.
As executive director of the Rape Recovery Center, Sonya Martinez-Ortiz echoes those concerns. “Scenes like this can trigger a traumatic reaction…because your body system notices there is a perceived threat or fear. Whether it’s real or perceived doesn’t matter, because our body can react as if it were a real threat, and therefore people may experience a range of traumatic reactions.”
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“Trigger but necessary”
The rape scenes in “Luckiest Girl Alive” are hard to watch. But maybe that’s the point: seeing a sexual assault is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable and outraged.
On Twitter, many viewers acknowledged that the film was “a very triggering but extremely necessary story.” More than statistics, visual imagery can help evoke empathy for the victim and the lasting impact of rape, says Elizabeth Jeglic, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who studies sexual violence.
“Seeing someone who’s been through something traumatic — and how it impacted their life — can make it more personal,” Jeglic says. “Because when you see how it affects someone, it allows you to humanize them, and then the problem becomes more real.”
However, the intention is important. If the purpose of including a graphic rape scene is to educate, safety precautions, such as consulting psychologists or coordinating with sexual violence organizations, are necessary to avoid “using” the graphic. education “like a license to include graphical representations,” says Riddle.
Do we need graphic rape scenes to raise awareness?
Many movies and shows exploit graphic nudity and rape for shock value. ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ isn’t one of those movies, experts say.
“The story was told from Ani’s point of view. We are not in the mind of the rapist, and only in his mind. His suffering was very clear, and for me, that made the scene less exploitative” , said Riddle.
That being said, a three-minute gang rape scene isn’t required to get the point across, Jeglic says.
“They could have shown less, and we could still talk about how the rape affected her and her life… It is likely that the same educational results can be achieved without showing the graphic details of a sexually violent act, but rather how it impacted the individual.”
At the start of the film, there is a disclaimer that the film is intended for ages 18 and older due to “violent content, rape, sexual material” as well as substance abuse themes. But some think a clearer trigger warning, with more detail and in a bigger font, would have been helpful.
Research on the effectiveness of trigger warnings is mixed. Some studies have shown that they have the opposite effect of attracting more viewers (like the temptation of a “forbidden fruit,” says Riddle). But for the most vulnerable survivors, a warning could help protect them from further trauma.
And when it comes to raising awareness about sexual assault, “We need to go beyond just consuming the media to bringing up the subject and having conversations about prevention,” says Martinez-Ortiz.
“The media is just one element. We need to have these conversations in our communities, in our families, in the classroom.”
If you are a sexual assault survivor, RAINN offers support through the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE & online.rainn.org).
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