During an introduction to a City Eye Southampton Film Week screening of The Rape of Recy Taylor (Nancy Buirski 2017) at Solent University in November 2018, a brief exchange ensued about how we overcome the difficulty of starting conversations that address challenging topics. This was not about how we actively tackle issues of sexual violence, racism and abuse but how do we even begin to talk about them in a way that is not divisive, insensitive or biased by our own cultural identities?
In 2018, the BBFC undertook a public consultation exercise that will inform its 2019 Classification Guidelines. Thus far, journalists have over-reached in their reactions to the exercise. To illustrate, various press outlets erroneously declared that films featuring sexual violence will be automatically allocated an 18-certificate under the BBFC’s 2019 guidelines. Both the Daily Mail’s Emily Kent Smith and The Daily Telegraph’s Charles Hymas refer to (but fail to substantiate) the motivating factors for the as-yet unconfirmed shift in BBFC policy, pointing towards ‘widespread concern that current age ratings are sometimes misjudged’ and ‘public backlash over “liberal” classifications following the #MeToo movement’. Hymas’s reference to #MeToo conflates real-world sexual assault with fictional representations of sexual violence. #MeToo was certainly driven by discussions about sexual assault within the film industry. However, outrage over real-world incidents of sexual assault does not directly equate to concerns about representations of sexual violence in fiction film; the latter may be of concern to ‘the public’, but the #MeToo campaign does not evince any such concern. Moreover, any change in BBFC policy would only impact on how films are classified; it would not directly curb instances of sexual assault within the film industry, for instance. Conflating real-world sexual assault with fictional representations is unhelpful inasmuch as it distracts from the campaign to prevent real-world sexual violence by changing working conditions within the film industry (and beyond).
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.
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.
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.
By Alan McKee, University of Technology Sydney and Roger Ingham, University of Southampton, UK. In 2016, Professors Alan McKee (a humanities researcher) and Roger Ingham (a psychology researcher) submitted to the Australian Research Council a successful grant application for a project entitled ‘Pornography’s effects on audiences: explaining contradictory research data’ (DP170100808). We were approached by Feona Attwood, who knew of the grant and asked if we could provide a piece for this special issue that explored ‘writing about porn across disciplines’. The process of writing the grant application had already provided us with plenty of rich data about differences in disciplinary vocabularies and the ways in which various words implied different objects of study and different relationships to objects of study. Rather than trying to hide these differences we decided to make them the focus of the article. This piece presents three voices – Alan (AM), Roger (RI) and the original grant application (GA) – in trialogue, as a tentative beginning to the exploration of some potential differences between academic disciplines in conceptualising, researching and writing about pornography.
By David Church, Northern Arizona University, US. Prosecutions of theatre owners for obscenity increased after the US Supreme Court’s 1973 Miller v. California decision returned responsibility for obscenity definitions to the judgment of local community standards, meaning that ‘smaller hard-core theatres suffered through a lack of product and a suddenly more discerning hard-core audience.’  One of the major implications of this legal precedent was a deliberate toning down of ostensibly aberrant or ‘taboo’ content in many post-1973 hardcore films. […] In the theatrical pornographic feature, illicit acts seldom appeared to begin with, but even a handful of 35mm genre ‘classics’- such as The Story of Joanna (1975), Femmes de Sade (1976), Barbara Broadcast (1977), Pretty Peaches (1978), Candy Stripers (1978), and 800 Fantasy Lane (1979) - suffered trims of select scenes when later appearing on video.