The (Non-)Depiction of Rape in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Coming hot on the heels of the growing #MeToo campaign and the Hollywood sexual harassment revelations, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh 2017) was the first star-studded Oscar vehicle featuring a rape-revenge narrative template to be judged according to the changed media standards. As Kevin Spacey was written out of a film expected to bring him an Oscar nomination, students were calling for Woody Allen to be removed from film studies curricula and Molly Ringwald was questioning the sexual politics of her own cult hits, Three Billboards seemed about to face unusual scrutiny of its storyline of rape and murder. While many critics pointed to the brilliant performances, especially by Frances McDormand as the victim’s mother, and the strength and determination of her character, little attention was paid to the images of the brutal crime: there were almost none. As a film that centres around the rape and murder of a young woman, Three Billboards is highly unusual in mainstream filmmaking in containing no imagery of the fatal episode itself. A glimpse of the corpse in the police file is the only visual reference to her death.

An ‘alarming cautionary tale’: Castrating the Faux Feminism of Teeth (2007)

Two years ago, writing in celebration of the film’s tenth anniversary, Vice critic Sirin Kale identified Teeth (Mitchell Lichtenstein 2007) as ‘an incisor-sharp commentary on male entitlement, consent, and sexual violence’. Yet just as the title of her article refers to Teeth as a ‘Feminist Horror Classic’, it is curious that Kale does not define the film in direct relation to feminism. This is not to say that issues of male entitlement, consent and sexual violence are not feminist concerns. Rather, Kale implies how Teeth critiques masculinity through these concerns, without politicising it in a feminist context.

Turning the Tables: Sexual Violence in Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971) and Rod Lurie’s 2011 Remake

There are few films that have proven more troublesome for the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) than Sam Peckinpah’s Cornish-set modern western Straw Dogs (1971) with its notorious double rape scene. For those unfamiliar, it tells the story of American professor David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) arriving in a remote Cornish village with his young wife Amy (Susan George). Given a sabbatical to pursue research, David has come hoping to find peace and quiet in Amy’s former home -- a remote farmhouse -- but his appearance stirs resentment and hostility in the tight-knit, patriarchal community. At the same time, Amy’s return to her roots sparks the predatory interest of several men in the village, notably her former lover Charlie (Del Henney). The pent-up hostility boils over in a sexual assault: Amy is the victim first of Charlie and then of his friend Scutt (Ken Hutchison). Soon after, a siege of the farmhouse results in the death of a local magistrate who has attempted to intervene. Finally, all five of the villagers besieging the building, including Charlie and Scutt, are killed. Amy and David survive.