Oscars: How This Year’s Docs Tackle Women’s Issues

Courtesy of Netflix
Sexual assault survivor Coleman in 'Audrie & Daisy.' Her experience has helped other teens who have seen the Netflix doc.

"More female voices are being taken more seriously," says 'Audrie & Daisy' co-director Bonni Cohen as her film and others delve into sexual assault and reproductive rights in the U.S. and around the world.

Audrie & Daisy directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk say there's a reason this year's docs include several on women's issues: among them, Dawn Porter's Trapped, about reproductive rights; Hooligan Sparrow, Nanfu Wang's investigation of a child-rape case in China; and their film, which exposes the trauma of two teenage girls after sexual assaults against them end up on the internet. "For sure, more female voices are being taken more seriously," says Cohen.

Cohen and Shenk wanted to reach out to kids like the real-life Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman. Though social media connects teens, the directors say it also allows shaming and ridicule to go viral. For their subjects, the internet exposure was almost more painful than the physical assault. "These girls are waking up to a public square of shame that is online," says Shenk.

The women in the film were drinking, and the directors say viewers often suggest they were asking for it. "[It's], 'What about the alcohol?' … Does that mean our boys believe that gives them license to assault girls?" asks Shenk.

Although the helmers say their main goal was to bring Audrie & Daisy to theater audiences, they chose a distribution model with Netflix because it allows the film to reach teens in the privacy of their homes, including on their mobile devices.

Cohen describes a therapist friend who had urged a teen, who had been sexually assaulted but was afraid to go public, to watch Audrie & Daisy: " 'You can watch it on Netflix — you don't have to tell your parents,' " she says. The girl later said Daisy's words in the doc spoke to exactly how she felt.

This story first appeared in a November standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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