The XX Factor

A Movie About Steubenville From a Male Perspective Is a Great Idea

Could Brad Pitt be the key to encouraging men to stand up against rape?

Photo by Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

Plan B, Brad Pitt’s production company that recently financed 12 Years a Slave, grabbed headlines this week with the news that it had purchased the film rights to the Rolling Stone article, “Anonymous Vs. Steubenville.” Written by David Kushner, the piece chronicles the efforts of online activists, flying under the name Anonymous, to get justice for a high school rape victim in Steubenville, Ohio. The protagonists of the article are a bunch of young white men who were touched by this girl’s suffering and angered by what they deemed a town cover-up of the crime, and set out to make things right.

You can see the appeal of this story from a Hollywood perspective: Young men go up against a football town to rescue a female rape victim. But Tara Culp-Ressler at ThinkProgress is not happy about the male-centric nature of the story and thinks it is typical of Hollywood’s inability to do social justice stories any justice:

In a culture where rape survivors’ voices are often ignored, and women’s stories about their own lived experiences of sexual violence and oppression are constantly brought into question, it’s discouraging to envision a movie about one of the most famous rape cases in the country that places a “white knight” at the center. Although it’s likely not the intention of Plan B Entertainment, that framing choice ends up further obscuring the real women who are victimized by sexual assault.

Usually, I would agree. Hollywood has a tendency to tell the stories of oppressed people not from their own points of view, but from the point of view of a privileged outsider who comes to the rescue. (The Help and Schindler’s List come to mind.) That’s why 12 Years a Slave was so essential—because it made an enslaved man the protagonist of a story about slavery, something that should seem like the obvious thing to do but is often not. And the Steubenville movie may end up being more of the same. But I’d like to withhold judgment until it comes out for this major reason: Rape is one of those issues where we desperately need white knights.

Rape is traditionally considered a “women’s issue,” but really it’s more of a men’s issue. Men commit nearly all rapes, even rapes of other men and boys. The phrase “rape culture” that feminists kick around describes, above all else, the way that sexual predators move about freely because other men don’t stand up to them (or, in some cases, actively support them, as we see in the newest reports about the latest charges against Jameis Winston’s teammates). Women can oppose rape until we’re blue in the face, but as long as rapists can look at other men and see indifference or active support, they’re going to remain emboldened. 

Look, women can rescue themselves through political activism on nearly all feminist issues. Women got themselves the vote. But when it comes to sexual assault, we need more men to say, at the very least, “Dude, that is messed up.” If this movie ends up showing young men a new model for masculinity, one where you stand up for a woman’s right to safety instead of wallow in a “bros before hos” mentality, then I will consider it a win.