[NOTE: This is a re-post of our review from the Sundance Film Festival; Audrie & Daisy is now available on Netflix]
I would like to say that Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s documentary Audrie & Daisy is a movie that will break your heart and serve as a call to arms in equal measure, but that’s assuming everyone who sees it was brought up with compassion for victims of sexual abuse. And yet as the film infuriatingly shows, there are those in our society who are quick to not only dismiss these women, but also blame them as quickly as possible. I have no idea what motivates this utterly insane psychology, and unfortunately, Audrie & Daisy can only show this reprehensible behavior rather than break it down. Thankfully, it also shows how women can speak out and be their own advocates so they can drown out the negative voices trying to drive them to suicide.fs
In September 2012 in Saratoga, California, Audrie Pott (first image, below right) went to a party, got drunk, and passed out. While unconscious, two of her male classmates sexually assaulted her and took pictures. Those pictures went online and Pott was so ashamed she committed suicide within the span of a week. Over in Maryville, Missouri, Daisy Coleman (above image) and her friend are lured to a party comprised of her older brother’s friends where they’re both sexually assaulted, and this is where Audrie & Daisy comes in to see if there’s a different route and if Daisy can avoid the same fate as Audrie and far too many other victims of sexual abuse.
The documentary seems like it’s trying to address two interconnected issues, but it doesn’t have the dexterity to properly address both. On the one hand, there’s an examination of rape culture, which includes the victim-blaming that drives young women to suicide combined with responses that seem cold and indifferent to the point of outrageous cruelty, and then there’s the issue of how do we change this culture. For Cohen and Shenk, the answer seems to be that women like Daisy need to band together and speak out.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that solution, and yet it feels woefully ill-equipped against the monstrous behavior the Coleman family faced from the “sweet, innocent, small town” community of Maryville. Why was there such a backlash against Daisy? Yes, her accused rapist was the relative of a powerful local politician, but the ignorance presented in the movie isn’t unique to this one location. When the town’s Sheriff says that girls are just as much to blame for their rape as the boys, it’s a disgusting viewpoint that I’m sure every worthless Men’s Right’s Activist endorses. The problem isn’t geographical; it’s cultural.
Audrie & Daisy doesn’t seem to have an answer for this, and that’s a shame because we can’t tell young women, “You’re on your own, and the only people on your side are other victims.” There needs to be compassion from everyone, and while there’s a nice scene of Daisy’s older brother saying how he told his little league players that they have to respect women, that’s a facile anecdote to a larger problem that I hope the filmmakers will address with a follow-up documentary. Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman are just two stories in an epidemic, and our society badly needs a cure.
Audrie & Daisy is currently streaming on Netflix and playing in select theaters.