A recent Press Republican letter promoting my Newman Center film series’ salute to Women’s History Month found me bemoaning restriction of official recognition of women’s issues to just March. Reminded that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I anticipated extending the series’ WHM observance, by any other name, an additional 30 days.
Suddenly the urgency of the prospect hit me given our current president’s cavalier (at best) attitude towards women’s issues. Simply put, the Trump administration is the last thing that sexual assault awareness activists need.
I proceeded to program April’s film schedule accordingly, consisting of four chapters. For chapter one I’ve selected director Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 samurai classic, “Rashomon,” to prompt a sense of time and place regarding the ugly swath sexual assault has cut across human experience since the dawn of our species. On second thought, make that timelessness and placelessness, for sexual assault knows no chronological or geographical limitations, a fact denoted by Kurosawa’s telling of a tale set in feudal Japan with rape as a key plot complication.
“Rashomon’s” thematically establishing presence sets the stage for chapter two, “Star Trek: The Enemy Within,” a quantum leap through time and space addressing sexual assault in the upper reaches of social stratification far removed from the realm of womanhood violated by the impoverished, broken-down samurai in “Rashomon.”
Indeed, the “Star Trek” episode alludes not to lower-class perpetrators with whom rape is most associated in the public consciousness but rather white-collar authority figures personally guilty of sex crimes or at least of failing to serve justice against them.
That said, “The Enemy Within” blurs the line between art imitating life and vice-versa like nothing else in television history. Briefly, a rape attempt aboard the starship Enterprise by a senior officer run amuck is thwarted, after which Spock (Leonard Nimoy) investigates on behalf of the intended victim, Yeoman Janice Rand, played by the late Grace Lee Whitney. Within weeks of wrapping production on this episode, Whitney really was raped on the Paramount Studios lot after-hours by an attacker she identified in her memoirs only as “The Executive.” Moreover, Whitney credited the commiseration of Leonard Nimoy with having saved her from suicide after she spiraled into alcohol abuse in a disastrous attempt to cope with PTSD incurred by the attack. Whitney and Nimoy both took the secret of “The Executive” to their graves, and sadly justice was never served.
With chapter two’s conclusion hopefully post-viewing discussion will boldly go where it’s never gone before at the Newman Center, not only considering coast-to-coast relevancy between Hollywood and the White House but also right across the street at SUNY Plattsburgh where, in April 2010, a student rape victim organized a rally bent on having two administrators removed from office for stonewalling her pursuit of justice, or so she claimed (she was not successful).
On that note, how chillingly apt is chapter three’s immersion in a collegiate lecture tour by one Frederic Storaska, flamboyant self-styled rape-prevention guru and founder of NOPRA (National Organization for the Prevention of Rape and Assault). His 1975 book “How to Say No to a Rapist…and Survive” inspired a 1977 film depicting Storaska live in-concert, so to speak, and I’m screening my 16mm print partly to mark the film’s 40th anniversary while ushering in our fourth and final chapter, a 40th-anniversary retrospective of 1977’s “Demon Seed.”
Starring Julie Christie and based on Dean Koontz’s 1973 novel of the same name, this absorbing sci-fi drama begs the question: what is the future of sexual assault? Having already been enabled in certain contexts by digital overload, might sexual assault find new paths to victimization through experiments in artificial intelligence gone awry? The mind boggles as one observes “Demon Seed’s” arguably plausible illustration of one terrifying possibility.
“Rashomon” and “Star Trek: The Enemy Within” will be shown Saturday, April 22nd, starting at 7:00 pm. “How to Say No to a Rapist…and Survive” and “Demon Seed” will be shown Saturday, April 29th, starting at 7:00 pm. The Newman Center is located at 90 Broad St. across from SUNY Plattsburgh. All screenings are free, with donations welcome to defray operation costs. Info firstname.lastname@example.org.