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The Origin: Madam Koi-Koi and the Male Gaze in Rape Scenes
When a male director shoots a rape scene, who does he shoot it for?
If you ask ten different female rape survivors to describe their experiences, they would have different stories, but one thing that would be found constant is the pain in their eyes as they recount the incident and the anger at the violation.
If you ask men to describe how rape happens, the majority of them may or may not have the exact definition — uber-violent, clothes ripped, and something along those lines.
However, this version of rape does not happen to every woman. For some, it is more subtle; for others, it is confusing, and some women were unconscious when it happened. Some women didn’t even know they were raped. One thing is sure, though: none of these women is interested in reliving their experiences when they watch a film.
Rape scenes in films aren't there for entertainment, and we must stop thinking that they are. Sometimes, you watch a rape scene directed by a man, and you feel like the goal of that scene was entertainment, which begs the question, “Whose?”
There is nothing artistic about watching the act of rape, and maybe male directors think it is vital to drive emotions and the plot, but many times when the act is shown in the story, it drives nothing that an implication of the event wouldn't have.
The screenwriter Ifeanyi Barbara Chidi explains that when telling stories about sexual trauma, we should avoid the trap of gratifying sexual violence and be empathetic towards the character who is the victim in the story and members of the audience who are possible victims.
“We stay too long on the terror of the victims and the desecration and havoc wreaked by the rapists without caring about the PTSD or the triggers we are putting out to real-life rape victims,” she tells In Nollywood.
“Unless the plan is to elevate the rape, the focus should be on the victim. Watching a rape scene that goes on and on feels like rape is treated like sex,” she adds.
These rape scenes eventually fail to drive the point that they should, as they mainly just become too triggering for the audience to get whatever message the filmmaker intends to pass.
A film where the rape scene itself drives the plot and is shot — for lack of a better word — tastefully is Fair Play. The woman in the story accuses her partner of rape, and her partner would chuck it up to rough sex, even when she clearly said, “stop.”
During the scene, even though the act transitioned from two estranged lovers having sex to rape, we could see and feel the change in a manner that was not triggering. When asked about the scene, the director said, “But I also think it’s very clear it’s sexual assault even if she doesn’t utter the word stop because things that start as consensual turn into assault. In terms of the blocking, I wanted it to be pretty brutal. I thought the brutality was important.”
The director of this film is a woman, Chloe Domont, and for some reason, that is not the least surprising.
A stark opposite of this is the rape scene in Nigeria’s newest horror, The Origin: Madam Koi Koi. There are two violent rape scenes in the first part of this two-part film, and interestingly, they are both shot similarly, which proves the point about a male’s prism of rape. They start differently, but once we are past the beginning of what led the women there, we get down to the repetitive business of the day. Save for the head-bashing gore in the second scene, the two of them felt like they stumbled out of a fantasy porn film, from the pant-ripping to the power show and, finally, the helplessness of the women involved. It was a trigger-fest and a rape scene that violent should have been left implied.
“We knew she was going to be raped when all the boys walked into the room,” Chidi explains further regarding one of the scenes. “We knew she was going to be raped when the terror was in her eyes, and she started begging. There were so many times and ways that scene could have been cut for us to realise she was raped without having that graphic picture forever in our memories.”
In a bid to be entertaining and, maybe, daring, the director, Jay Franklyn Jituboh, shot a rape scene for the male audience and left the women who watched it wondering what the point of these scenes really is.
There are certain unexplainable nuances to shooting such traumatic moments, but the most glaring of them is that it should always be about the assaulted character and the women watching. The focus should be on the fear of what is about to happen, the realisation of the lack of power, the attempt at putting up a good fight (if you really want to go the violent route), and then leave the rest of the event implied, and come back to the aftermath.
“The focus should be on the victim, not the act itself,” Chidi adds. “We should see her break. We see the devastation. Not the pleasure or enjoyment of the rapists. The emotions are more important than the act. The breaking is what we should be focused on. And with the male gaze in charge, the scene ends up focusing on the wrong things.”
For repetition's sake, rape scenes are not for the viewing pleasure of anyone and are definitely not meant to be entertaining. The pant-ripping, blood-splattering or power-showing approach does nothing other than make it hard to watch for women.
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