Advertisement

‘Maybe if it were a nice room:’ New film wants you to look at rapists differently

Alicia Harris wants to use film to get us to see rapists differently.

“As soon as I started making it about myself, it became better.” CREDIT: Alicia Harris/Screengrab
“As soon as I started making it about myself, it became better.” CREDIT: Alicia Harris/Screengrab

Unknown iFrame situation

Alicia Harris, a film director in Toronto, wanted to create a film to raise awareness about rape culture. Armed with her production designer skills, she sat down to write a poem that would become the backbone for her production, “Maybe if it were a nice room.” But when she sat down to write, she struggled to find the right words.

Using scenes of beautiful rooms, Harris tried to talk about someone else’s life, but it just wasn’t working. So she decided to recall one of her worst experiences instead.

He was 10 years older than she was, so Harris imagined a room filled with antiques. She was a virgin at the time, so she included a single white flower in a room of green plants.

Advertisement

Harris is fascinated by transforming spaces. That idea directly influenced her film, where the beautiful sets — a tea room, a clock room, a room of old photographs — are placed in juxtaposition with the ugliness of rape.

Her own rape, in fact. Harris was raped by her date after a New Year’s Eve party when she was 19. Five years later, she wrote this poem about it.

Then, she recruited a crew to turn it into a film — though she didn’t immediately tell them that the poem was about her. Even now, with the film public, Harris is somewhat conflicted about being the face behind the story.

“I’m very used to talking about it absent of my own story. I’m very used to talking about rape culture and feminism,” she said.

But when it comes to her own attack, she’s still figuring out how to express herself.

“Even just using the word rape, I’ve only started doing that now.”

“I’ve always wanted to get a gramophone in a room and a bunch of old clocks.” CREDIT: Alicia Harris/Screengrab
“I’ve always wanted to get a gramophone in a room and a bunch of old clocks.” CREDIT: Alicia Harris/Screengrab

To Harris’ benefit, the crew had only three days to create the film. Day one was spent acquiring the clocks, books, and and photographs. On day two, they created and capture multiple sets in an abandoned police station. Day three, she sat down with one other person to edit the piece. Everything moved quickly.

Advertisement

“I didn’t have any time to back down and I also felt like I couldn’t back down. People are already inspired by what I’m doing, even though it’s just my [crew]. The fact that they’re inspired by this means that others will be too,” said Harris. “Even though it’s going to hard at first, I’m still going to do it.”

“I wanted to create really nice rooms, that I’d always dreamed of as a production designer.” CREDIT: Alicia Harris/Screengrab
“I wanted to create really nice rooms, that I’d always dreamed of as a production designer.” CREDIT: Alicia Harris/Screengrab

The director wants to use the film to change the way we think about sexual violence. She was raped by someone she was dating and she wants others to understand that experience as what it was.

“I feel like the word rapist has a very specific definition in people’s minds of masked person on the street, people we don’t actually know,” said Harris. “In order to change rape culture, we need to change the definition of a rapist.”

According to RAINN, three out of four rapes are committed by a perpetrator known to the victim and 55 percent of sexual assaults occur at or near the victim’s home.

“Just because [the film] doesn’t end with an empty warehouse, an alley, a torture room, just because it doesn’t necessarily look as ugly as the traditional definition of rape…doesn’t mean that that wasn’t rape,” said Harris.

“The main thing I wanted people to take away from [the film] was that this doesn’t only just happen in that perfect rape story space. It can happy to anybody, at any time, in a seemingly normal bedroom.” CREDIT: Alicia Harris/Screengrab
“The main thing I wanted people to take away from [the film] was that this doesn’t only just happen in that perfect rape story space. It can happy to anybody, at any time, in a seemingly normal bedroom.” CREDIT: Alicia Harris/Screengrab

Instead, the film ends with a normal bedroom. The lights are dimmer, barely showing the outlines of ruffled sheets and clothes on the floor, but you wouldn’t know anything so horrifying had happened there without the juxtaposition of the previous spaces.

Advertisement

That’s how Harris remembers the hotel room from New Year’s Eve — “It was kind of a nice hotel room, but it wasn’t.” When she first started working on the film, she was reluctant to attach her name to what transpired five years ago, but through the process of creating and promoting the film, she’s learned that she’s stronger than she thought.

“I don’t want to do this, but at the same time I do really want to do this,” said Harris. “I feel like I need to be the spokesperson for so many women who have this exact same story that are afraid to come forward for obvious reasons. Look at the Brock Turner case and look at Trump now, it’s so relevant now, that I felt like I had to make it…I want to make more people feel like their stories are valid, which is what the film is doing for me.”