That was fun! Thanks for coming by and for the thoughtful questions about our film. Keep in touch, especially if I missed a Q. We are @rollredrolldoc on socials and we'd love to keep talking about the issues raised in the film. Resources, partner orgs doing great work, ways to host a screening are on our website. Thanks!
Hi, I'm Nancy Schwartzman https://twitter.com/fancynancynyc director of the doc "Roll Red Roll" on Netflix investigating the infamous high school rape case in Steubenville, Ohio involving football players, "boys will be boys" culture, vigilante justice and the hackers Anonymous who helped shed light on the story despite the town's efforts to keep it quiet.
You can see the movie trailer here: https://rollredrollfilm.com/
I saw the tremendous support the film received on /r/Documentaries and wanted to take some time to answer your questions about it.
As film makers, do you think there is any possibility of a second film?
I want to know what happened to C. Saltsman,
I know Trent mays was accused of a second rape at Central State
You should also update how Malik was later BACK ON THE TEAM ~~~ WUT
Can you also confirm that Malik's father tried to shoot the judge in this case, and the judge returned fire, he was killed?
SO MUCH MORE WORK FOR YOU TO DO HERE- WHAT DO YOU THINK?!?
Oh goodness... you want me to go back to Ohio and make a follow-up film?!
What I thought was so powerful in the Steubenville story, wasn't just that Trent and Ma'lik committed a crime and were adjudicated guilty (legal language when juveniles are "found guilty) but that so many other boys were in that room, witnessed the crime, took photos, did nothing. I didn't want anyone to watch the film and learn those details and say it was no big deal what happened in that town. It is a BIG DEAL if your son steps over a victim and does nothing, or photographs a victim and doesn't stop it or help her. To my mind all of the kids who laughed, witnessed, spread the social media that shamed her deserve attention and scrutiny.
So - follow up on some of the people in the film, I am sure C. Saltsman is living his life, as if nothing happened. Under the radar, low profile, not quite in the room, but certainly had a part in what happened.
Yup, you are right about Trent Mays - a victim did come forward saying she was assaulted by him (with a photo taken, I have seen it), but I don't think she's opting to make a report. I understand, the criminal justice system is set up to support perpetrators, to encourage them to lie and deny, and then drag victims. So it is well known on his campus by admins that he is a sex offender, with a prior record for assault, and yet - he still plays at the school.
Ma'lik was invited back on the Steubenville H.S. football team after he was released from juvenile detention and was MVP that year. I heard the crowds cheering his name when I was there for the game. A lot of people in town were outraged about that and found their voice then. Nothing had changed in the town, no anti-violence programs, no education, so letting him back onto a team that had not changed its ways was outrageous to locals, and prompted some dissent.
Yes, Ma'lik's father was a troubled man. Ma'lik was actually raised by another local family, the Agrestas - a big football family in Steubenville, since he was a kid. So Ma'lik's dad did assault a judge, and was shot and killed. Tragic.
My goal with making this film is to really invite men, boys, coaches and athletes to step up and join us in doing anti-violence work. I'd feel really good if Steubenville invited the film to show their high school kids. Til then, I won't be going back!
Hi Nancy! How did you first hear about the Steubenville case and what made you decide to tackle such a daunting documentary? I imagine that there would be a lot of hostile interviews from some of the locals. Thanks for bringing this story to light, as I'd never heard about it before.
Thanks so much for watching the film, and I'm glad you got to experience more with the film. I first heard about the story when it broke in the New York Times. Blogger Alexandria Goddard (@prinniedidit) already captured social media, found deleted evidence and kicked it up to larger audience. Rachel Dissell, investigative reporter at the Plain Dealer had been reporting on it, too. Then Anonymous came in, after Alex was sued (a local family was trying to silence her blogging about the case!) and blew it onto the New York Times home page. The Steubenville story had all the elements - rape culture writ large, published in hundreds of social media posts. For me, I wanted to look at story about rape and not center and scrutinize the victim. What is the language these boys are using, and why is no one stopping it? What was happening in that town that made it "ok" to joke so publicly about rape? Getting into town was INTENSE, for sure there was a lot of hostility. I'm a woman, a New Yorker, a survivor, part of the "media", I didn't fit in and I wasn't welcome. But after a while, lots of face time and getting to know folks, they opened up and shared their truths with me.
Did you find very many young girls that held the same opinion as the two girls interviewed who partially places blame on the victim? Were the students overwhelmingly in support of the perpetrators?
All teens growing up with this culture harbor the fucked up belief systems we give them, unfortunately.
Most students in Steubenville were going along with the crowd and blaming the victim. It's what they've been taught, it's what the adults around them were doing! It does depend on the town and the school. Jane Doe was from a neighboring town, and her community supported her, for the most part.
The girls in Roll Red Roll reminded me so much of so many of the girls I grew up with, we were taught that if you are raped it's your fault, because rape is inevitable, so we should "be safe" and if it does happen, we must have done something to provoke it.
Our goal entirely with this film is to flip that narrative.
Hi Nancy, can you elaborate here on the connections between what happened in Steubenville and other cases in which similar social and institutional tolerance has been evident (Catholic Church, boy scouts, US gymnastics, etc). As your film showed, so much focus and attention goes into policing how girls look and act when they are targeted, but you show how pervasively predatory behaviors are minimized and folded into "normal" masculine behaviors and ideals. Can you comment specifically on the culpability of institutions?
Yes! Institutions and systems need our full scrutiny, not victims or individual cases. We fail when we don't step back and look for patterns. I think the institutions that most impact the culture in Steubenville are high school football, the Catholic Church, college football/NCAA and the NFL. These are the guide posts in the culture.
To start, there are no women in leadership - anywhere - in town. Not on the football team, 70+ coaches, none female, all male players, tons of money goes into that program, no women on city council (nicknamed "the town fathers"), none in the pulpits of the Catholic Church and definitely not in the college/pro leadership of football. So already you have massive gender segregation, and women are not at the table making any decisions about anything.
With that segregation you have incredibly rigid and regressive gender norms. Boys in town are athletic, hetero, "manly" and girls are cheerleaders, boosters, and in support roles. These norms are baked in early, and haven't changed since the 50's. Sex is something a man takes and not something a girl is supposed to want.
So add those rigid roles, lack of women in leadership, and absolutely no sex education, or gender education, and you have a very old, entrenched set of views around sex and power, validated and enforced by the Church and football, and no one with enough power to challenge it.
The power of Anonymous in the Steubenville case, is they gave people the ability to push back and fight back safely, under the veil of anonymity. Small towns reinforce old patterns, and those masks helped free a lot of people to finally speak up.
What do you think is the most important thing parents can do to prevent their sons going down this road?
Such a great question. So often when we talk about preventing sexual violence or rape, we focus on what girls/women can do to "stay safe". As if rape is something that's inevitable, that we just have to accept. What I wanted to show in "Roll Red Roll" was how endemic the culture is, and how we're steeped in it - so all kids (even the mythical "good kids" whoever those are) are susceptible to going along with the dominant culture. Parents can start by making preventing sexual violence something they talk to their sons about. What is consent? What is bodily autonomy for them (boys can be assaulted, too - of course), and what is bodily autonomy for classmates and the girls they might be dating. No one has the right over someone else's body. Start recognizing who in your friend group might be a predator - who actively seeks out the drunkest girl at the party, who you wouldn't feel comfortable leaving your sister with - and call him out. We have to ask our sons to step up and prevent rape before it happens. If schools aren't doing sex-education parents need to push that science, fact-based, consent-based sex-ed are part of their schools and teams. (long answer!)
What do you make of the Jeffrey Epstein situation? Seems similar in the idea that despite actual laws, you can create a pocket of culture where the majority is complicit in illegal activities, through an unspoken contract. I find this fascinating in light of the theories outlined in things like The Black Swan, which is the opposite situation, where a vocal minority can swing societal outlook their way. (e.g., https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2016/09/nassim-taleb-explains-minorities-dictate-purchasing-lighted-vanity-mirror/ )
This, then, seems like a situation where the majority creates the trappings of upholding the law, while mutually, and silently agreeing that it doesn't apply. This is then communicated to any holding a minority opinion through menace which can run from subtle ostracizing to violence. Then you have these boys, not silently at all, loudly admitting their illegal act on tape, because they didn't get the message that it was silent.
TLDR, what do you think of Jeffrey?
I think we need to drop our obsession with the "mastermind" and "lone wolf" narratives. Epstein is a really good example of entire networks and systems in place to enable his behavior. Many people benefitted, aided and abetted his global trafficking and rape networks. To me, the enablers and bystanders are as complicit, and more fascinating than he is. The banality of evil.
Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, all those lawyers, NDAs, drivers, body guards, even Pittsburgh Steeler's Ben Roethlisberger, beloved (rapist) QB had bodyguards keep the doors closed while he assaulted people.
I think because the Steubenville story broke in 2012, wrt "keeping it quiet", social media just hit that sweet spot of being totally available, but still kind of unknown (for parents at least), so the kids didn't realize how public it was... and they had no idea Alexandria Goddard would find it all. They didn't understand the medium, so it's the first case to go viral. They did it with such a lack of accountability, you have to think they had been long handed down the message that they ruled, and could get away with anything.
Same with JE.
After going to Steubenville and spending so much time there what do you believe was the catalyst that built this culture? I would think it would have to be something decades - maybe even a century - ago. Is it the people, the environment, what's projected in the media, etc.,?
I think it really calls back to tradition and institutions. These really segregated spaces - the Catholic Church, City Council, football field, where men decide the fate for the group, and women are in a secondary position. Sex is taboo, women's pleasure is practically a crime, and the old boys' network is alive and well.
I think most movies and tv shows are super progressive compared to the attitudes on display in town, so when I was filming (under Obama/Biden) I wouldn't blame the media. Now is a different story in terms of the toxicity of the WH. Without sex-education anywhere to be found, you know where kids are learning about sex... and we know that's not a great teacher.
There are tons of brilliant educators, athletes and folks that are willing to come in to the schools and talk to kids, and they have not been invited or welcomed.
Not a real question, but more of a comment. I really want to watch this, but it is not available on Netlfix in Norway. Any way you can put pressure on them to make it available in all regions? Else I might actually try to find it through, ahem, other sources.
We should be on Norwegian TV! So don't do anything funny ;). I can try to find out for you, but it's your main channel, we are in all the Scandi countries.
Hi Nancy! Thanks for doing this AMA. I think it’s so important for the Ohio Valley (where i work and live) to not forget this incident so that mistakes are not repeated. But for our country to also be aware of the culture that fosters sexual violence and humiliation towards women. It is rarely mentioned around here nowadays, and there doesn’t seem to be much that has changed since the controversy died down. I am hoping the release of your film reignites the conversation not just here, but everywhere. The attitudes from back then are still actively at play. HS football is god, coaches are untouchable, sports are more important than academics. Many residents held disdain for the victim because football gives them a sense of pride, in their team and their coach, in their community. Anonymous held those in power accountable, and it is a tragedy that some of them faced prison and were sentenced for doing so.
My question is this: do you think anything truly changed in or around Steubenville years after the incident? Do the local schools offer prevention programs now, or are there any prevention initiatives in place?
Also—How can i prepare my own daughter to grow up in this area? How can we shape our little girls into strong women that will not tolerate this behavior?
Hi - you're welcome! Unfortunately I don't think there are programs in place in town, but I'm not sure. Ohio State has terrific anti-violence services in Columbus, Cleveland and PGH, you could see what's more local.
In terms of working with schools, we need parents to step up, call the school district and push for resources and trainings! We need parents to side step red tape about getting this topic addressed.
It's not just an Ohio issue, in suburbs outside D.C., the students had to rally to show the film and side step their school who refused. So it's national reluctance to deal with it. We have great resources here: http://rollredrollfilm.com/resources/guide/
Also happy to be in touch for more details. We really need to teach our sons! And make sure your girls aren't buying into savior or princess narratives (challenge them at every turn!) that tell them their only worth is which guy they partner up with ;). They'll be good.
Did Jane Doe ever reach out to you? I'm curious if she had any thoughts about the documentary, if you think she'd be comfortable with you sharing of course.
Our intent when making this film was to protect the privacy and anonymity of Jane Doe and take the scrutiny off of her. And I will continue to do that :). She has an incredible family that has always been supportive of her, and people that rallied around her.
There were many Jane Does during the Anonymous rallies who were at the court house and able to speak their stories for the first time. So this case changed many lives and broke silence.
I have young children. This sort of thing really scares me. How would you recommend educating young ones about this sort of thing as they grow up?
Must be a bit scary to be a parent today! There are a lot of great tools out there about sex-education about how to talk to kids. I love Scarleteen https://www.scarleteen.com/ as a super inclusive, sex-positive resource. I'd also take it to the schools and push that they make this a part of their curricula! Roll Red Roll has a high-school friendly curricula, we partner with PBS, so check that out, too: http://rollredrollfilm.com/resources/
Hi, Nancy! I followed this case as it developed and I had no idea there was a documentary out! My question, did you manage to get an update on Michael Nodianos? He said some of the vilest things about Jane Doe, and yet he just slipped through the cracks.
Yes, well he did get suspended from OSU for a year after the case broke, so he definitely got more heat than the kids who were in the room during the assault. He's also the face and voice of the incident, so he really faced a lot of heat in town. Seemed like people were more mad at him than the actual kids who committed the crime, for making it public.
I wanted to speak to him, because I know he has regret for his behavior, and I thought he'd have a very strong perspective on fucking up and then making amends. But he declined, unfortunately.
What’s your favorite documentary? How did you become a filmmaker?
Favorite documentary... what a fun and challenging question! Well, Jon Waters is one of my favorite directors, and "Moulin Rouge" is one of my favorite movies - so I think it makes sense that "Paris is Burning" is up there on my documentary list? The camerawork, the beautiful, feline, delicate, assassins in that film (!Dorian Corey forever!), the camp, the delivery of lines, those lives lived, the clothing, the dancing - those New York City streets, that film for me has everything.
I became a filmmaker because I was too impatient to be a photographer. I started out as a street photographer because I loved being nosy, following people around, going into their homes and lives, staring, observing, absorbing. I had so much freedom, just because I had a camera. But to work alone for years and only have 10 photos to show for it? I would have died. I love collaborating, and with each photo I wanted to know more about the people, I wanted their voices. So I taught myself, I didn't go to film school. I made my first film "The Line" on my own, figuring it out with brilliant artists and friends and a lot of stops and starts.
Thank you for making this. As a teenager, I was a dipshit and thought "rape culture" just stupid hyperbole. This movie is yet another disturbing example of how wrong I was.
Now, do you think there has been any real progress in the struggle against rape culture since the events of of the documentary?
That's always such a hard question. I think so many people are newly awake to it, and motivated, and pissed off and want to make change. Men especially are starting to really see how "boys will be boys" is a direct contribution to rape culture... so that's good.
But on the flip side, holy shit, the energies at play working overtime to quell any progress and spread regressive, dangerous narratives about gender are really getting boosted by powerful forces.
Feels like we're in a dead heat sometimes... but the willingness for more people to engage with the problem and be the solution is really encouraging.
This movie is definitely on my family's list for later this month.
The "Old Boy's Club" is a hot topic on the other end of the nerd/jock spectrum in Live Action Roleplaying groups, as women are becoming more front and center in the hobby. Admittedly, most LARPs are steeped in archaic medieval ways, and it spills out into the way people interact as well, making it uncomfortable for people actively trying to change the way things are in these groups.
From investigating this case, do you have any advice or insights for leaders (of any group) on how to help initiate systemic change?
I'm so fascinated by the nerd/jock spectrum. At the core, misogyny and sexism is so pervasive, it's like the air we breathe, right?
Group dynamics are intense and entrenched, but if you can find folks who want to challenge the dynamic, that are smart and intersectional about it, and respected in the culture, I'd invite them in for guidance. Each group is different, maybe for yours, you need an interactive experience?
I'm designing a low-key card/LARP called REPUTATION about these dynamics, lmk if you're interested. I can keep thinking about it.
Hi Nancy. Loved the film, thanks for your work. Back during the election, candidate Trump called his access hollywood comments "Locker room talk", to which a lot of pro athletes then said that wasn't how they talked in locker rooms.
However, having spent some time in amatuer and low level sports myself I always thought that kind of was how boys/men talked in them. How much do you think the closed/private nature of locker rooms contributes to the type of disregard for women we see in places like Steubenville?
It's not the locker room, it's the leadership! In Friday Night Lights, do you think Coach Chandler would have let his team rape girls on the weekends, and talk and laugh about it in the locker room? It starts at the top, what is tolerated, ignored or even encouraged.
I'm all for private locker rooms, or public nudity, but there are ground rules that need to be established - such as, it's not ok to rape if you're on my team, here is the definition of rape, and if I hear otherwise, you're off the team. That's it. The public/private nature of the space doesn't matter, as long as the culture and groundwork has transparency and equity.
Hi Nancy, I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the film - it was brilliant made and shot and very engaging. It must have been difficult to cover this kind of subject on a personal level.
What are you working on next?
Thank you! That's totally the reward for all the hard work, really appreciate it. For me, dealing with intense subject matter, if I can make a change, if I can illuminate and shift the culture, even a little bit - then it's worth it. It's empowering. That's the beauty of filmmaking and storytelling for me. Instead of being overwhelmed and outraged (I mean, you always are when making a film), you can channel that to try and make a difference.
Why did you choose leave out the incident with Malik’s dad?
We were wrapping the edit when it happened, late Aug 2017, we finished a few weeks later. And while it was completely shocking and tragic, it wasn't part of the story we were telling.
Who performed the heavy metal in the documentary?
For the opening sequence (really the brain child of my amazing Producer, Steven Lake) made with killer gfx from Nick Vranizian, the song under that is COMA AMERICA by Amen, kind of an obscure band from the 00's. And under the texting sequence is JUNGLE ROT.
Also have to thank our insanely incredible music supervisor, Mary Ramos - who is Tarantino's supervisor (!!!), and fell in love with this film and helped us find our composer Nima Fakhrara and song writer Morgan Kibby.
I'm reading some of the replies, and I have to say that I very much appreciate the work you are doing to try to flip the narrative and put the responsibility on the aggressors, not the victims. I know it's not easy.
Do you ever worry that you are painting with too broad of a brush? I've seen you say elsewhere that the "criminal justice system is set up to support perpetrators", and that seems at odds with cases like Brian Banks that have come to light. It seems to me that rape cases are so steeped in the issue of credibility rather than evidence that the outcome often turns on the relative social power of the suspect and the victim. If you're Brian Banks, you spend years in prison for a crime that was fully fabricated, never happened. If you're Brock Turner, you get caught red-handed and the judge openly worries about ruining the life of a good kid who swims fast instead of worrying about the actual victim.
I'd say Brock Turner, Epstein, cops who send battered women home because they know their husbands, wrist slaps and favors from judges all illustrate a system set up to protect an old boys network.
The justice system also over policies poor people and people of color, and actively works to support the powers that be. Victims of rape are usually not in that strata.
While the case of Brian Banks is terrible, it is a rare exception. False reports are 2%-10% of all reports. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_accusation_of_rape
Non-American here, and first watched the documentary on Norwegian TV. Such an interesting story, thanks for telling it! Do you personally think one year for rape is a long enough sentence? Or do you believe it should be longer (or shorter)?
Good question - the data shows that longer sentences for the crime of rape don't actually prevent sexual assault, only education does. I don't really support the criminal justice system as it currently is, I look to transformational or restorative justice models that actually center the victim and their needs, and are more collaborative, about truth telling and accountability. Especially for younger people.
So really if we want to prevent we have to get it in the schools at the youngest age possible.