In the Oscar nominated film Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a man who will do anything to succeed. As a freelancer who captures video footage for news stations, he manipulates, lies, and cheats to achieve his goals. Director Dan Gilroy uses this story to satirize a number of subjects: from the media, to capitalism, to the underbelly of the American Dream. Film critic Matt Zoller Seitz accurately depicts the film as a “warning against being fooled (in life) by people…..who see what they want (fame, money, a job, a mate), and go after it, and refuse to take no for an answer, even if the “no” is delivered through tears.”[i]
If you agree with this theory, the subsequent question is: who are these people we need to be aware of? One of the prevalent themes in Nightcrawler is that the media plays a pivotal role in shaping what we believe to be true. The Indian Government seemed to follow this ideology when they decided to ban the documentary India’s Daughter thinking it would “encourage and incite violence against women.”[ii] A letter to news media outlets stated “The media is likely to be seen as a voice for the perpetrator of such crimes by providing him a medium to communicate his views on the matter repeatedly.” In hindsight, the Indian Government’s knee-jerk decision was a terrible one on many levels, ironically bringing even more exposure to the film by banning it. If they truly believed the documentary’s method was wrong, a press statement analyzing the documentary would have been a much stronger move than an outright ban. If we’ve learned anything from the Charlie Hebdo attacks, it is that freedom of expression (especially in art) must exist in order for there to be any type of conversation.
However, vilifying a poor government decision is too easy of a target. It is much more complex to understand why they made this decision. These reasons could range from a pure cover up, to shame, to a response to previous media coverage of rape in India. Rape in India has become a very polarizing topic and many have called for a larger societal shift. Earlier this week, the Youtube video ‘Rap Against Rape’ was released, depicting two Indian women criticizing the inconsistencies between cultural and social expectations for women in India. Another side states that despite high profile cases, India has one of the lowest rates of rape in comparison to Western Countries. A Belgian professor, Jakob De Roover, makes the case that India has become “the rape nation in Western Imagination” and that statistics don’t take into play the difference of population between countries.[iii] While some Western news reports may have dealt in generalizations, stigma and other barriers towards victims reporting often play a huge factor into these statistics. It has been estimated that underreporting could be as high as 54% but it is likely much higher as not many studies have been conducted to analyze this topic.[iv] Anyone can understand that no country wants to have their reputation tarnished by being known as a nation of rapists. Even in the United States, the idea of ‘rape culture’ is often derided as a ‘feminist’ theory or as an overblown issue, when the statistics of rape and sexual assault in this country show that there is a serious problem being ignored.
The irony of rape culture is that the more we strongly claim it does not exist, the further we help point to its existence. In early 2014, the YouTube channel Fousey Tube posted a video titled ‘The Public Rape Experiment.’ It showed various people’s reactions to a tape recording that suggested rape was occurring in a bathroom stall. Some people left the room immediately, while others charged into the stall in order to help. For those who entered the stall, they saw the tape and a mirror inscribed with a message “This is what a rapist could look like.” Backlash in the comments were immediate: ranging from people expecting more of FouseyTube’s norm of prank videos to frustration for calling those who tried to help rapists. It is this reaction that we want to focus on. We are not attempting to justify the government or some media outlet’s unfortunate handling of the documentary. We are not stating that the U.S. or India’s media, government, or people have a bigger issue of dealing with rape. Rape is too serious a problem for people to point fingers at other countries in such childish arguments. However, as Indian Americans we would like each of our respective countries to take a hard look into the mirror with us. What would happen if we critically analyzed the problem of rape culture and our own tendencies?
While most people believe rape is merely about sex, rape stems from the desire to have power and exert control. The story behind India’s Daughter is the story of a girl who was working to better her life and was brutally murdered as a result of a vicious gang rape that may have also used an iron rod to attack and penetrate her on a bus. Regardless of country, we do her life and the life of other rape victims and survivors’ injustice by trying to cover up what happened. Without understanding that any one of us COULD abuse power to such a degree and that this is not solely a first world or third world problem, we will not understand why change is so crucial. By staying silent and not holding our respective governments, media, friends, family, and ourselves accountable, we will never enact change. However, just because rape culture does exist, does not mean that it always will. Even though it may be a long road, the journey to change can begin today.
This petition aims to increase support for rape victims and hold India’s government accountable for helping change the mentality concerning gender equality. Please use your voice to help the voiceless.
-Written by: Chris Chacko & Eeshwar Chandrasekar