Trust: Should Rape Be “R” Rated?

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but the MPAA is censoring a movie aimed at a teen audience because it includes a rape scene. Trust, which is directed by David Schwimmer and opened in U.S. theaters on April 1, centers on an online relationship between 14-year old Annie (Liana Liberato) and her cyber boyfriend, “Charlie,” whom Annie believes to be a junior in high school–until they meet in person and she realizes he is much older than he claimed.

[SPOILER and TRIGGER ALERT]

The film features a scene of sexual assault, as Charlie pressures Annie into sexual activity and then commits statutory rape. Regarding the scene, director Schwimmer, who has worked with the Santa Monica-UCLA Rape Treatment Center for well over a decade, comments,

There is no nudity, no overt sexuality other than what needed to be implied for a scene in the hotel room where we learn that a rape took place.

When the MPAA initially slapped an “R” on the film, Schwimmer appealed, arguing that a PG-13 rating could help the film reach a teen audience with a warning about the danger of online predators. But when he refused to cut or alter the film, his appeal was rejected. It was released in the U.S. with an “R” for “disturbing material involving the rape of a teen, language, sexual content and some violence,” barring those under 17 from seeing it without an adult.

That’s a shame, because Trust gets pitch-perfect what it is like to be a teenage rape survivor: the scrutiny one undergoes in the microcosm of high-school politics, the heightened awareness that that classmates and teachers are gossiping about the intimate details of the assault. Annie laments that her “life is ruined” even as she struggles to come to terms with Charlie’s coercive manipulation (when her Dad says she was “attacked,” she says, “it wasn’t like that … you don’t even know him!”)

Trust invites viewers to examine their own ideas about what it means to give consent. Legally, Annie cannot consent to a sexual relationship with the adult Charlie, who has misrepresented his age and identity from the beginning. Yet many around her, including her classmates and friends of her parents, claim that because she didn’t explicitly say “no,” she was not raped. With the help of her supportive parents (Catherine Keener and Clive Owen) and a therapist (Viola Davis), Annie comes to accept that her community’s understanding of consent is deeply flawed: Charlie violated her ability to grant a meaningful “yes” because he was an adult who pretended to be a teenager.

What does it say about the MPAA that a film which demonstrates compassion, sensitivity, and nuance regarding a teen’s sexual assault is deemed too mature for teenagers under 17 to watch alone? Ironically, last week’s universally panned rape-revenge-fantasy Suckerpunch, which contained a half dozen attempted or implied rape scenes, snuck by with a PG-13; the only cut the director had to make to pacify the MPAA was the sole consensual sex scene. Perhaps Suckerpunch got a pass for being fantastical. But given the prevalence of online predators and sexual assault, teenagers should be trusted with realistic sexual-assault content that relates to their age group. The MPAA’s rating of “Trust” limits a potentially important and mainstream conversation on sexual assault in the digital age.

Comments

  1. Such fail, MPAA. Do they not understand that there's a difference between inundating pre/teens with gratuitous sex and violence, and giving them something serious to consider?

  2. Absolutely a bad call to rate it R, as teenage girls (and boys) need to know what acts qualify as rape and how the feelings that come after are not solely the victim's over-reacting. If I had been able to tell my parents and get support from them, and had gotten counseling after I was raped at 13, I may not have de-valued myself to the point where hung out with the type of crowd prone to use teenage girls in that way over and over again.

    By the way, many Lifetime tv movies deal with teenage rape, and it is a learning and validating experience. As long as this film, which I have not seen, doesn't go for the 'erotic dangerous thriller' effect, then it can teach our children of both sexes what is acceptable, what the long term outcome for both victim and perpetrator ca be, and how not to get themsleves in situations they are not ready to handle.

  3. Just read Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. I don't think it's a failure by the MPAA at all, they kept up their standards. You don't need to show a rape in order to show the life of the victim afterwards, and if you really wanted to make sure the viewer knew the victim was raped, use some fancy Law and Order SVU editing.

    • @jennynoel says:

      Helen – I read this as saying the movie does not show the rape, only shows the context and imply the act. And it's still rated R.

  4. MPAA is a Christian organization, with all of the “conservative” values that middle America is pandered to with. I suggest that you netflix “This film is not yet rated” as it excellently explores the flaws of the organization.

    I just got a great Idea. If directors & companies instead exclusively used the British Board of Film Classification, or a European one, then the violence to sexuality ratio might be less skewed towards the former. The movies would have to proudly proclaim that they are using the alternative film rating system. Free trade can fix the situation, if the movie studios engaged in it.

  5. The Other Boleyn Woman has a rape, yet it's rated PG-13. I'm sure there are many other examples. I'm after Netflix to provide a Rape Warning, because I don't consider it entertainment, and I'm sick of returning half-watched movies. Even if it's considered a socially responsible depiction, I think people shouldn't have it sprung on them. I would have assumed it to be a no-no for anything under an R.

    • I agree with you completely about a “rape warning”. I am not okay with rape scenes in movies and I think it should be noted in plain sight under the rating where they normally put, “violence, drug use” it should say, “rape scene(s)”. I actually read all reviews on rated R movies and if anyone mentions rape in the movie in their review or if rape is listed in the rating, the movie isn’t worth seeing.

  6. Laura Plummer says:

    The language alone was not terribly appropriate for a 13-yo audience. But I DO advocate having open and frequent discussions with your teen (and tween) daughters about the reality of rape and sexual assault. Whether that involves watching this film together and then talking about it is up to individual preference, but I believe it is a stunning piece of cinema.

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