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Roll Red Roll

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In small-town Steubenville Ohio, at a pre-season football party, a horrible incident took place that would garner national attention and result in the sentencing of two key offenders. Amateur crime blogger Alex Goddard uncovers disturbing evidence online, documenting the assault of a teenage girl by members of the high school football team. Explores the complex motivations of both perpetrators and bystanders in this story, to unearth the attitudes at the core of their behaviour. The Steubenville story acts as a cautionary tale of what can happen when adults look the other way and deny that rape culture exists. With unprecedented access to police documents, exhibits and evidence, this documentary feature unflinchingly asks: “Why didn’t anyone stop it?”


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Running Time: 56/81 min.
Subject(s): Activism, Crime, Current Affairs, Media, Personal Story, Society, Women, Youth
Language(s): English
Director(s):
Producer(s): Nancy Schwartzman, Steven Lake, Jessica see all »
Cinematographer: Matt Bockelman
Editor(s): Christopher White

Press

  • “What did they do with that girl?,” an unseen male asks as the peaceful opening shots of the documentary “Roll Red Roll” reveal a quiet, darkening street lined with tidy family homes. The skin-crawling audio continues, others now joining a conversation pocked with callousness and nervous giggles: “She is so raped right now.”

    With bone-chilling explicitness, the director Nancy Schwartzman lays out exactly what happened to “that girl” at the hands of high-school football stars in Steubenville, Ohio, in 2012. Picking at the scab of respectability, she reveals a football-crazed culture of misogyny and entitlement that resulted in the brutal abuse of an unwary teenager too inebriated to recall her ordeal. Fortunately, the cellphones and social-media accounts of her attackers and their friends would remember for her.

    Assembling these repugnant posts and videos (cannily captured and published at the time by the industrious crime blogger and interviewee Alexandria Goddard) into a timeline of casual depravity, Schwartzman deepens her dive and widens her reach. What emerges is an infuriating portrait of sports-mad solidarity and victim-blaming that would eventually attract worldwide attention and prompt the investigative reporter Rachel Dissell to wonder if Steubenville was “putting its daughters at risk by protecting its sons.”
    A tough but essential watch, “Roll Red Roll” documents how a sexual assault in a declining Appalachian town became an international cause célèbre. Shots of near-empty streets and an abandoned steel mill provide a melancholy frame for behavior that seems horrifyingly incomprehensible.

    “I can’t wait for this story to go away,” an unseen radio jock says near the end. Now that part I understand.

    The New York Times
    Jeannette Catsoulis
  • Nancy Schwartzman’s documentary is sober and unexcitable, as it needs to be, in its presentation of the facts. The story that she recounts, dating from 2012, is centered on the sexual assault of a sixteen-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio. Two members of the high-school football team were convicted of rape. Teen-age drinking, unsurprisingly, was part of the equation, but what made the case especially disturbing, and very much of its time, was the role played by technology: photographs of the naked victim were sent online to the offenders’ friends, and they in turn were filmed reacting to such images. Their jesting went viral, and thus a culture of voracious misogyny was exposed, to the discomfort of the school authorities and the indignation—or shame—of local citizens. Schwartzman talks to many of those affected, and her movie is strewn, ominously, with the debris of social media.
    The New Yorkers
    Anthony Lane
  • Even if you’re familiar with the 2012 high school rape case out of Steubenville, Ohio, that turned a global spotlight on the football-mad city’s permissive culture of reckless behavior, social-media shamelessness and victim-blaming, you still won’t be fully prepared for the sickening totality of Nancy Schwartzman’s chilling documentary about the incident and its aftermath, “Roll Red Roll.”

    Measured and atmospheric, like a dread-inducing horror film, it starts with placid nighttime shots of home-lined streets and unsettling audio of snickering teenage boys, one of whom says with creepy glee, “She is so raped right now.”

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    The victim that long August night was an intoxicated, unconscious 16-year-old teenage girl, and the accused boys were classmates, members of the storied local football team. When police arrested 17-year-old Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond for the assault, the city rallied around the boys in what was presented as a he-said-she-said situation, one in which the girl’s mere presence in an alcohol-fueled party atmosphere was reason enough to scoff at the idea that she didn’t have some complicity.

    What changed was the attention local crime blogger Alexandra Goddard gave the case when she mined the Internet for a real-time social media account of the night’s events, as posted by the players themselves in the throes of abhorrent boastfulness. Naturally figuring a mass deletion might occur in the wake of the arrests (and press coverage that was then scant), Goddard captured and published a trove of soul-rattling photos, comments and videos, igniting a firestorm reaction of outrage, not to mention the attention of national news outlets, and the righteous hacker collective Anonymous.

    Soon the entire town was under scrutiny for fostering a look-the-other-way culture that, as Cleveland Plain Dealer investigative reporter Rachel Dissell suggests in the film, might have put “its daughters at risk by protecting its sons.” That’s an easy conclusion to draw when Schwartzman shows us police interview footage of hemming and hawing football coach Reno Saccoccia weakly defending his decision not to even deploy the school’s no-tolerance alcohol policy on his players, saying suspending the boys “would make them look guilty.”

    It’s not even the most infuriating part of the clip. When lead investigator J.P. Rigaud then has to explain the definition of rape to this supposed authority figure over young men, you may feel like instituting your own no-tolerance policy, toward willful apologists for sexual assault.

    Schwartzman’s careful narrative derives its power not just from the archived depravity that gave prosecutors plenty of evidence, and the sober recollections of key figures like Goddard and Rigaud, but the troubling inquiry – with no simple answers – at the heart of the case: How did peer pressure get this toxic? Where was anyone’s conscience? Where was the adult supervision? As for that last issue, state law enforcement attempted to address it a year later with a fresh round of charges that revealed an earlier, unreported assault on a 14-year-old girl.

    But can you even call what happened in Steubenville an example of a town having dark secrets when these fresh-faced rapists celebrated what they did on forums viewable by anybody? “Roll Red Roll” is about what happens when a crime’s outrage only begins with the cold facts, expanding as one realizes that this is behavior bred, encouraged, accepted and shielded from punishment: an offensive line that could make any perpetrator feel like a star quarterback.

    Not only that, some of the more nauseating details in “Roll Red Roll” — callous texts and vicious comments, like the 12-minute video of one heartless boy making “dead girl” jokes about his friends’ sexual assault aren’t even illegal, as lead special prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter acknowledges with a weariness that you can tell comes from experience. As “Roll Red Roll” makes clear, even slam-dunk justice isn’t completely satisfying when you look at the culture of unabashed misogyny that poisons the well in the first place.
    The Los Angeles Times
    Robert Abele
  • “Roll Red Roll” is a piercingly relevant and disturbing documentary about an infamous high school rape case that took place in Steubenville, Ohio (pop. 18,600), on Aug. 11, 2012. Steubenville, the sort of Friday-night-lights small town that boasts signs that read “Kick off for Jesus,” is a place that’s good at keeping secrets. When the rape was first reported in a local newspaper, there was an attempt on the part of much of the community to deny the crime by simply waving it away. It was seen as the stars of the local football team, known as the Big Red, getting a little too wild in a boys-will-be-boys way. The coach didn’t even suspend his players for drinking (a rule he was generally strict about), because he didn’t want to get them in trouble.

    But there are times you need an instigator to stir up a hornets’ nest, and one of the figures who drives “Roll Red Roll” is Alexandria Goddard, a crime blogger based in Columbus — though she was originally from Steubenville and knew what a parochial, sweeping-stuff-under-the-rug community it was — who took it upon herself to investigate the rape. Goddard, a smoker with true-crime anthologies dotting her living room, has the punk-rock charisma of a spiky forthright citizen journalist; she’s the sort of “character” who lends spark and drive to a documentary. Yet beyond her muckraking personality, there’s a hugely significant aspect to her detective work. She investigated the rape by combing through thousands of social-media messages — Facebook and Instagram posts, as well as texts, that added up to a minute-by-minute timeline account of the night in question, a kind of unofficial surveillance camera.
    Goddard sorted through the messages, reconstructing the evening like a one-woman FBI, and that’s enough to make you wonder: Would a typical police force — anywhere — be as likely to do the same thing? Would the law confront a violent crime by treating the slapdash LOL messages of teenage boys as the ultimate codex?

    Those messages, it turns out, tell two stories. Nancy Schwartzman, the director of “Roll Red Roll,” constructs a compelling true-crime drama, built around videotaped police interviews with the young witnesses conducted by the lead detective in the case, J. P. Rigaud (who’s like a Chiwetel Ejiofor character). The circumstantial evidence he gathers leads to the arrest of two 16-year-old football stars, Trent Mayes and Ma’lik Richmond, who were ultimately accused — and found guilty — of the rape of a minor. Testimony, and one shocking photograph of the underage victim’s listless body being carried through a house, indicates that she was incapacitated from drinking (or even entirely unconscious). From there, witnesses to the crime, including several boys who were in the room, testify to the ways that she had been assaulted.

    But the social-media messages didn’t just incriminate the perpetrators. Apart from the issue of who was guilty, the messages reflected a more generalized tone of jeering, leering you-go-bro! misogyny — what has come to be thought of as “rape culture.” Rape culture is the real subject of “Roll Red Roll,” and it’s a subject of devastating importance, because if what we’re speaking of are crimes of inhumanity, and you think, “What could be worse than that?,” a clear answer is: a cultivated sociopathic atmosphere, shared by legions of “normal” young men, that says that rape is something they don’t reject — it’s something that, in secret, they accept and even encourage. They know it’s against the law, but in their hidden hearts and minds it’s something they view as a primitive male form of “conquest” rather than as the hideous act of violence it is.
    The social-media messages connected to the rape in Steubenville (“Like I always say, you don’t need much foreplay with a dead girl,” “Some crazy ass shit just went down bro,” “Whores are hilarious”) express a lack of empathy so complete it’s terrifying. And as much as we might want to characterize it as extreme, you can hear echoes in it of a more generalized and blinkered 21st-century American teenage misanthropy. An attitude that says, “I feel good, so why should I care about you?” An attitude that says that another person only exists outside of you, so compassion is a waste, and a girl (or boy) can therefore be treated as an image, an object, or something worse — a utensil.

    “Roll Red Roll” follows the full trajectory of the case, culminating in the trial that attracted international attention. Activists swarmed to Steubenville, a number of them sporting V for Vendetta masks, as the case became more than an individual test of justice. It became a referendum on how sexual violence is treated by the larger society.

    The phenomenon of rape culture has emerged, more than anywhere, from the frat house (and from spring break, that ritualized bacchanal for kids who aren’t necessarily in frats), and it has been growing there — metastasizing — for decades. “Roll Red Roll” captures, with potent power, how the “If it feels good, wreck it” ethos of the beer-pong drink-till-you-submit forced “hookup” is finding more and more of a home among high schoolers. It’s not as if these things never went on there before, of course. But the attitude of male entitlement that surrounds toxic sexual coercion — and, in some cases, force — starts younger than it once did. It is becoming, more and more, an attitude that teenagers embrace. And though it’s obscene to think of even one person being victimized by it, what “Roll Red Roll” reveals is that these boys also need to be saved from themselves.
    Variety
    Owen Gleiberman
  • The New York Times
    An essential watch
  • The Hollywood Reporter
    essential viewing...powerful...compelling
  • IndieWire
    potential breakout...a compelling true-crime story

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