Sometimes there’s a strange serendipity that happens in culture and pop-culture. There are times when things line up, like when movies come out in perfectly matching pairs about such random things as asteroids, ants, volcanoes, androids, and mars. And then there are times when two things absolutely perfect for each other just miss, and the world is a little poorer for it.
The #metoo movement was started by Tarana Burke back in 2006 on MySpace, before hashtags. It more recently exploded into cultural consciousness in relation to sexual violence in Hollywood around October of 2017. Coincidentally, just 6 months before violence against women became a national conversation there were two pieces of media that were already the subject seriously.
Colossal came out in the US in April of 2017. Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, whose previous biggest hit had been the Spanish science fiction movie Timecrimes (2007), it’s a strange film. Starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, the movie is about Gloria (Hathaway) whose life is falling apart and moves back to her hometown to try to piece things back together. She has a twofold problem in that she is an alcoholic and that she sometimes controls a giant monster that smashes through Seoul. While trying to sort her life out, the abstract and absurd violence of the kaijui is interwoven with a grounded story involving emotional abuse and threats of violence. It is a strange mixture of genres and tones, and makes for a pretty great movie.
With a relatively paltry budget of $15 million, it made less than $5 million at the box office and tanked.
With the subject of violence against women now on the table, it’s common to see the conversation take place in nonfiction media such as interviews and news stories. We also take inspiration from pop culture in media that tends to exist on the edge of the conversation, not always explicitly engaging with the topic of violence but rather reflecting an emotional reaction (see Wonder Woman, or the women of Wakanda in Black Panther). I can’t help but think that if Colossal had come out six months later, or even after that, it would have been embraced as part of the conversation. In it you have a science fiction movie with a pretty big star and interesting visual effects engaging with the subject of violence against women in no uncertain terms. Colossal is an interesting film in and of itself, but in context it’s amazing. Before sexual violence was a dinner table topic this movie took the subject head-on and with a shocking honesty in the guise of a genre film.
Speaking of unequivocal engagement in the subject of sexual violence, let’s talk about Sweet/Vicious.
Sweet/Vicious was a television show that ran on MTV. It premiered in November of 2016 and ran a whopping 10 episodes until January of 2017. While all of that was even earlier, it was officially cancelled at the very tail end of April 2017, the same month that Colossal came out. Again, just 6 months and change before the decade-old Me Too movement exploded as the #metoo movement.
The show follows Jules Thomas (Eliza Bennett) and Ophelia Mayer (Taylor Dearden), two female college students. Jules is a blond sorority sister, and Ophelia a green-haired stoner with a talent for hacking. Their paths cross one night on campus when Ophelia is cornered in an alley by an assailant and a masked Jules saves her. Without dropping any spoilers, they meet, things escalate, and they end up having to keep each other’s secrets.
One thing that made this show great was the way it showed different social circles that women inhabit, and how each one can regard the subject of sexual assault in different ways. Ophelia is a loner who seems very independent and self- sufficient. She generally fights for others or against issues. She’s sort of a big-picture person and can lose sight of individuals in her pursuit of justice. Jules is in a sorority and while most of the members range from eye-rolling and harmless to outright supportive, there are unspoken rules that dictate a lot of the behavior in her circles. Another point the show hits on is that hurting the perpetrator is not the same as helping the victim. That punishing the attackers on campus doesn’t necessarily make the victims feel any more secure. A lot of the time a conviction or a public shaming is the end of a story. But despite the heightened violence and vigilante justice of Sweet/Vicious, they acknowledge that these women’s lives go on. That there’s more to them than that one incident, but also more to their experiences than that one episode of the show.
But as I said, these shows landed just a little too soon. Colossal left theaters without much commercial fanfare, and Sweet/Vicious was canceled after the first season. And it’s a damn shame because both of these have a lot to say about sexual violence, and both have very different ways of talking about it. It’s strange revisiting media that’s a year old but seems to still be ahead of the curve in terms of open and honest confrontation. I don’t know, maybe with explicit violence in the news all the time people want a bit more metaphor in the fictional media. Maybe these were a little too honest when they came out and a little too blunt right now. But I think that both of these stories, while already told, still deserve to be heard.
In the case of Colossal, it’s important that imperfect, and even unlikable, women can be victims and are entitled to the same amount of humanity, respect, and justice that “perfect victims” are. In the case of Sweet/Vicious it’s important that when talking about rape we say the word rape. That we don’t dance around it and leave it veiled, with the ability to let part of us pretend we’re talking about something a little less brutal and, well, vicious. That sometimes what we talk about when we talk about sexual violence and assault is emotional abuse, or leveraging a woman’s personal issues as a way to silence her. And sometimes we’re talking about rape, and the power and punch that word carries isn’t something to hide. It’s powerful for a reason, and that’s because it’s so awful we sometimes don’t want to hear it. But it still needs to be said.