Tackling Rape Culture in Revenge Ride.

Revenge Ride makes its European Premiere at Grimmfest 2020, we chat to stars Vanessa Dubasso and Jake Lockett about how the film challenges rape culture and sexual violence (Content Warning, rape, sexual assault)

Pollyanna McIntosh leads a leather clad biker gang in Revenge Ride.

Revenge Ride follows Maggie (Serinda Swan), a tough and ruthless member of the all female Dark Moon biker gang led by the merciless Trigga (Pollyanna McIntosh). After Maggie's cousin, Mary, is drugged and raped by Keegan (Jake Lockett), the gang ride out for revenge.

Revenge Ride seemingly draws on the narratives of 70's girl gang vigilante movies, promising a satisfying watch for the #metoo generation where victims of rape and sexual violence have been denied justice. The black leather, the thirst for blood, the bond between the characters, provides a sense of 'hell yeah' empowerment that will resonate with the audience and have them rooting for Maggie, Mary and Trigga to the end. Yet the film tackles rape culture head on. So rather than ask my usual list of questions, when I met Vanessa and Jake via Zoom I was itching to deep dive into the films narrative and discuss how Revenge Ride provokes discussion around this sensitive subject.

As an actor, an important aspect of preparing for your role is the ability to empathise with your characters. What experiences or values did you draw on, in order to portray your characters.

Vanessa. Without going into too much detail, I have had experiences that amount to abuse. I have been at parties where I have been harassed by a guy. We live in a world that constantly shames and silences those who have experienced abuse. The #metoo movement has shown that there are others listening, who have had similar experiences, who will support you. I am opposed to extreme positions that come from hate and anger. I think it’s beautiful that Mary is both supported by other women in Revenge Ride, and retains her compassion and personal values despite experiences.

Jake: You are right that you have to find some way to empathise with a character, even when they are an antagonist and do some hateful things. I considered Keegan's environment, our world, how those around him enabled his actions. I drew on my experience of abuse from my father. The publicised cases at various universities show how football coaches and deans protect players, white men enjoy a position of privilege, and perpetrators often do not face the consequences of their actions.

Both. America has a lot of problems with rape culture.

It’s not much better over here sadly, with less than 1% of reported rapes leading to conviction. So it is important that we foster discussion and I am glad the film shows the horrific reality that many experience.

With that in mind, do you think that Keegan is the real villain of the movie? What about the actions of his friends and coach or even Brian?

Vanessa. I don’t think Brian can be regarded as an antagonist, he believes the women, he seeks to support and protect them and tries to do the right thing but is ignored.

Jake. I agree Brian cannot be regarded as an antagonist, he faced a situation where many of us would be conflicted but ultimately he supports the women and this is reflected in his romance with Maggie. Keegan is definitely the lead antagonist. Yes there are the other characters who enable him, and definitely the coach is a villain here. However, Keegan feels no guilt or remorse, he decides to take advantage of the situation with Mary and seeks to silence those who oppose him.

Keegan takes an aggressive stance against the men who highlight his actions are not right, effectively silencing them. What experiences have you had as a man seeking to support women? Have you been silenced?

Jake: I am fortunate to be surrounded by good people who do speak up and are supportive of women. However what I have noticed is that people don’t really listen and they stay silent. Here in L.A you will find many people who will say they agree and stand by those groups who are oppressed. Whilst the #metoo movement had people talk about their experiences, and people’s support seemed to be good, there was no depth to their reaction. There was no discussion as to what is necessary to fix the situation. As a man I do have privilege and I am fortunate that I have not had the experiences that the women in Revenge Ride have. But I can listen. I can learn. It has been eye-opening listening to People of Colour and them detail the microaggressions they experience and reflect how that should influence my own behaviour and the conversations with others.

What of the protagonists in the film? I note there seemed to be a parallel between the ethos and actions of Dark Moon and some aspects of Radical Feminism in that there seems to be a deep resentment for men.

Vanessa: All of the women in Dark Moon have a deep bond through their experiences, and immediately seek to support and protect Mary, offering her physical safety and lead her to feeling empowered rather than shamed after her experience. What is so wonderful about Mary is that despite her wanting revenge, she still does not wish harm on anyone and still has retained her love and understanding of people despite the evil she has experienced.

Conversely, Trigga is filled with hate and resentment of men as Keegan has a deep resentment towards women. Such viewpoints are from a place of fear and hate. I don’t feel that constructive discussions or change can take place from a place of extremism on either side and it leads to violence. This view ultimately informs Maggie's decision at the end of the film too as she and Mary share similar principles.

Serina Swan plays Maggie, who is seemingly torn between friendship and her values

Like many people who experience sexual assault and rape, Mary does not report her actions. What advice would you give to people who may be faced with the same situation.

Vanessa. It is important that we treat people who are facing those circumstances with empathy. Mary not reporting her experience was not her condoning it. Lets not forget that her first experience after the attack were strangers laughing at her and slut shaming her and this is a common reaction faced by people who are facing such atrocities. Mary was fortunate that she had a cousin that was in a Motorcycle gang. I would like to assure people that are facing these circumstances that it was not your fault at all, there are safe spaces and that there are those who will treat you with love and compassion. The shame is on the oppresser not you. There are also people challenging the current culture.

I have to commend the bravery of the film and those involved for the subtle yet accurate portrayal of both date rape and a lack of capacity to consent through intoxication. I found it very difficult but was glad that Revenge Ride moved away from the Hays Code on this. But for audience members who may find those first few minutes triggering, what assurances can you give to help them get through in order to watch the rest of the film.

Vanessa. It is hard to get through. It was tough for me to film those scenes but everyone dealt with it professionally. But in order to open a proper discussion about these issues you have to hit the matter head on. Otherwise abuse continues. You have to see those scenes in order to see the beauty in how Mary and Maggie overcome their experiences, become stronger and yet retain their love and compassion. The way they are supported by the other characters in the film is beautiful and I would not want anyone to miss that. What I would say to anyone watching those scenes that may find it difficult is you are not broken, take someone with you to support you.

Jake: I see so many people just looking at their phone, and not being present with their friends or really connecting with people. It is really surface interaction. I hope that by seeing the pain that Mary and Maggie experience, it will help the audience connect and empathise with those who have gone through similar experiences. As for those who may find the scenes triggering, I would hope that the portrayal of those characters in the film would be empowering and also send the message that there are those who believe you, who will hold space for you and treat you with compassion and empathy.

Both Mary and Maggie face tragedy throughout their individual character arcs. Without spoiling the film for anyone, are you concerned that this may send the wrong message to people in the audience who may have had similar experiences?

Vanessa. Oh that is a tough question. I don’t like what happens to them. But there are so many beautiful moments in Revenge Ride. I love how Mary finds the relief and support she needed. Despite everything that happened to her she didn’t want anyone to die which ultimately reflects her love for humanity. Both Mary and Maggie found people who love them for who they are and treat them with respect. So I don’t think it sends the wrong message. Revenge Ride shows there are people who care enough to listen, and that you can love and be loved despite your experiences.

Jake. I know the audience would prefer a different outcome. But that would not be realistic. You don’t have to like it. But I hope it gets people talking about a difficult subject. In real life, people lose their lives and there are consequences for all involved. I think overall Revenge Ride sends the message to those who may be vulnerable, who maybe struggling with the same circumstances, that there are people who do care and will listen and the film will hopefully start those difficult conversations.

As a Horror fan, I am still on the fence as to whether the audience truly got their ‘pound of flesh’ during Dark Moon’s revenge scenes. What are your views?

Vanessa - I am a horror fan too so I would have loved to see more gore in certain scenes. *laughs*

At this point Vanessa acts out what she would have loved to have happen to Jake's character, Keegan. I mention that as someone who has seen I Spit On Your Grave, I was hoping for some no holds barred torture.

Jake you look worried.

jake: Yeah, well that is my character you are talking about there!

Revenge Ride straddles the line between drama and horror so whilst I do enjoy the grindhouse feel, it still speaks to a wider audience. So whilst it could have been a lot more gritty, I actually feel it deals with the desire for revenge in a more logical way. It would have been easy to make Trigga, Maggie and the Dark Moon gang assassins. But the approach Revenge Ride takes is a more realistic brutality both in the way it portrays the events and the internal conflict that Brain and Maggie face. At the end of the day, sexual violence does claim lives in many ways and I know the horror audience will appreciate the subtext of the film.

Mary refers to Dark Moon as Superheros, which I thought was a subtle nod to the superhero female origin story. To an extent this plays out in Revenge Ride. Is there still a place for the trope of a female hero who has experienced sexual violence?

Vanessa - Mary's reference to Trigga being a superhero was born out of her attraction to her. Mary has been through this event and Trigger relates to her, comforts her and exacts revenge on her behalf. However, Trigga denies being a hero, they are wolves, they have the mantra of s*ck my p*ssy but Dark Moon are there for Mary no matter what.

Jake: As for the trope, Revenge Ride is ground in reality for many; both the story and characters are dealt with honestly and their experiences are used as a vehicle that drives the film’s themes. That is different from the use of sexual assault as a mere crutch as to a female superheros origins where there could be a number of reasons why they became heroes.

Finally, what changes do you hope to see as a result of Revenge Ride tackling rape culture?

Vanessa– I hope that ultimately it spreads the message that sexual abuse is happening everywhere, all the time, and we must be aware. Involve yourself in any helpful way, whether it’s a friend in need or someone you barely know. Don’t troll on others, because people do not realise the harshness of their words or actions. Above all, do not silence those that are affected, instead bring their stories to light.

Jake – There is so much that needs to be done to start the needle in the right direction, and if Revenge Ride is able to help foster conversations about the subject that would be a great stride. Too much of the time people are silenced intentionally and unintentionally, so if people see someone struggling, stop looking at your phone and ask them if they are OK. Really ask them and give them a safe space. It may not be the first time you ask them but if we push for that safe space, the trauma can be revealed and people can start to feel supported so they can heal.

Horror lovers from the UK and Northern Ireland can watch Revenge Ride at Grimmfest 2020 (7th- 11th October 2020). Grab your tickets here.

Rape Crisis offers a confidential emotional support and information to those in England and Wales. If you are in Scotland then look here. Nexus provides support in Northern Ireland.

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