Demystifying Making a Feminist Film

As an female actor, aka actress, I was tired of a lot of the female roles out there. I was tired of being typecast as “blonde, female victim” (actually the name of a role I was asked to audition for) and of women being secondary, inactive characters often reduced to the sum of their parts. I recently saw a notice for a role where “on a scale of 1 to 10, she’s a 12” was an actual character description.

I wanted to write the kind of edgy, complex role I often have to convince people I can play. That’s why I decided to write, produce, and star in The Night Runner, my own short film. In the film a woman named Riva Harris finds she has superhuman strength in the aftermath of an attack.

The idea for the story came from fear. I’m an avid runner and often run in Prospect Park. Last March I was running on the outskirts of the park and it turned dark on my run.  I instinctively surveyed my path for uneven pavement, sticks on the ground, and potential human threats. It’s ingrained in me. Don’t be alone at night. You’re a woman. It’s too dangerous. Too risky.

I thought: If someone comes at me while I’m running, I could punch them in the nose, palm to the face, elbow to the temple…Then I thought: What would it be like if I felt completely capable and confident in my safety? What if I had superhuman strength? What if I didn’t navigate the darkness with a plan dictated by fear? I immediately wrote notes down when I got home.

The notes sat for months. It wasn’t until the summer, when rapist Brock Turner dominated national headlines, that I returned to them. While reading the details of Turner’s victim’s story and the seeming disregard for her personhood, that old fear reemerged. Underneath it was boiling rage. I wrote the first draft of the script.

Then, right here in New York, a young woman was raped and murdered while running in broad daylight. Soon after, the headlines were dominated by the political climate and Donald Trump’s remarks about women and it threw even more coal on the fire. The same mixture of fear and rage churned. Now, I knew, I had to make this movie.

I started a strength training program (Linda Hamilton, here I come!) and started asking around for recommendations for directors, crew, locations: anything and everything. As a stubborn Leo, asking for help is the last thing I normally do, but I can tell you it takes a village to make a movie! Things have been up and down and I’ve had to meet the challenges with the same tenacity my character Riva Harris displays.

Every time I’ve gotten bogged down in the nitty gritty of finances or production details, I’ve gotten little reminders of why I’m making this movie. A friend recently told me about a female jogger in Seattle who was attacked in a public restroom while on a long run. She fought and clawed her way to survival. Her story has a positive ending. But there are so many stories that don’t.  

No matter how many precautions we take, what ultimately needs to change is the perpetration of sexual violence and the objectification of women. Women are more than the sum of their parts. Women are strong. We are a force. And we need the fear to end.

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