We Need To Talk About The Rape Scene In FX's Snowfall

Photo: Mark Davis/FX.
As if the politics of the crack epidemic aren’t dark enough, the new FX series Snowfall went completely rogue last night. Our naive protagonist, Franklin (Damson Idris) is badly beaten and robbed of $30,000 thanks to a ruthless set up orchestrated by Claudia (Judith Scott), a club owner who has been purchasing cocaine from him in bulk. Because much of that money is owed to his supplier, Franklin seeks out the men who robbed him and enlists the help of his friend Leon (Isaiah John). Leon connects him with a local guy he met in jail, Karvel (Sheaun McKinney). They travel to the home of Lenny (Craig Tate), one of the robbers, and proceed to tie him up, and interrogate him about the whereabouts of the money. When Lenny refuses to talk, Karvel hits him in the knees and chest with a baseball bat, drags him into another room, and rapes him.
The rape does not happen on camera. Instead, viewers hear the pair struggling on a creaky bed from the other side of the door. A confused and frightened Franklin stands in the hallway misinterpreting the sounds as Lenny being killed. Leon makes it clear, “He not killing him. He giving it to him.” Then, we hear more bed creaks and muffled groans. I was so disturbed I had to pause the show. Even without actual imagery, the scene was that hard to watch. Rape scenes usually are. That the victim was a man seemed to heighten my repulsion because of its rarity.
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The aftermath of the sexual assault left nothing to the imagination. You see Lenny bent over the bed with his pants at his knees, bloody from being beaten and staring blankly out the window. He's in complete shock. Karvel, on the other hand, walks out with a grin on his face. He finds Franklin's money and takes it for himself.
Snowfall’s co-creator, John Singleton took credit for the scene, explaining to TV Guide that the writer’s room discussed, “What would be the most shocking thing to see?”. Singleton says that he came up with the idea of rape after pondering “what would [Kravel] do to totally humiliate him?”.
Let the receipts show that Singleton is a filmmaker who is extremely invested in exploring the nuances of Black masculinity. He is the creator of Baby Boy, the 2001 cult classic that starred Tyrese as an emotionally underdeveloped man incapable of self-sufficiency until he starts selling stolen apparel. Singleton has a firm understanding of heterosexual masculinity, so it makes total sense to me that he landed on this particular act to represent defeat and submission.
And for what it’s worth, it worked. Reactions to the scene on Twitter ranged from shocked to horrified.
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These reactions were clearly amplified because the sexual violence occurred between two men. That the sounds of a man being raped could be so much more impactful than the graphic depictions of sexual violence against women on television is telling. When considering these reactions and Singleton’s rationale, it’s clear that sexist notions of gender are at play. Heteronormativity has become intrinsically linked with masculinity in the same way that bodily autonomy has. Men have the privilege of dictating what happens to their bodies, which is why people react so strongly to their bodily autonomy being taken away, especially via a sexualized act with another man.
In truth, sexual violence is horrific no matter what gender you are.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).