Welcome to Role Call, where we call up TV’s leading ladies to talk about their most vital, memorable, and feminist episodes.
For some unsettling reason, sexual assault and rape storylines have become a topic du jour on our television screens. Game Of Thrones inserted sexual violence where it was completely unnecessary. The (very, very riveting) USA limited series The Sinner revolves around the repressed memories of an implied rape so traumatizing, its survivor murders a man in reaction to a triggering song. These stories make rape seem removed from our everyday world, like this kind of violence only happens in fantasy epics or psychosexual thrillers. But, that’s not true. So, enters the Bold Type finale, "Carry The Weight." The Freeform season-ending episode puts the realities of sexual assault survivors squarely and complexly into the mundanity of work deadlines, love triangles, and glitzy magazine parties, reminding us survivors exist everywhere — not only in Westeros. And that is why "Weight" feels so important.
The way the installment allows survivors stories to unfold feels especially rare. We don’t see violence inflicted on any woman, which for some reason already makes "Carry The Weight" an outlier. Instead, we meet performance artist Mia (Ana Kayne) in the first few minutes of the episode. The young woman’s assault occurred so long ago her case has already gone through the justice system, which failed her. Mia’s rapist is deemed an "innocent man," despite her testimony to the prosecutor's office. Now, Mia is doing a public art piece where she holds Lady Justice’s two scales as both a symbol of her belief in the allegorical heroine and metaphor for all the people who share her pain. This is obviously the Bold Type’s homage to Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz, who carried around the dorm room mattress she was raped on as protest. Sulkowicz's project was called Carry That Weight. Since Mia is modeled after a real-life person, her story feels tethered to the society we live in every single day.
Katie Stevens, who plays lead character Jane Sloane and appears in every scene featuring Mia, explains exclusively to Refinery29 just how careful The Bold Type was when approaching a storyline similar to Sulkowicz's actual life. "When we found out we were doing a storyline inspired by [Carry That Weight], and [rape and sexual assault], we were all a little bit nervous," the actress says, revealing the show’s team penned multiple drafts until they got things right. "Because it’s one thing to try to tackle that. It’s another thing to do it well. In order to be respectful of anyone who’s gone through that experience, we just wanted to make sure that we were being delicate, but still talking about it and shedding light on the fact that it does happen." In a further effort to be "sensitive," as Stevens puts it, the writers spoke with multiple people from rape crisis centers.
Of course, this level of sensitivity also applies to the second part of the "Weight" story, where Jane’s boss, powerful, kind, Scarlet editor-in-chief Jacqueline Carlyle (Melora Hardin), is also revealed to be a sexual assault survivor. The moment viewers realize this, it doesn’t feel like a exploitive so-called "twist." It's instead an explanation as to why the editor has been so hard on Jane and her story about Mia. In a touching scene, Jacqueline leaves a Scarlet party to stand with Mia and take the Scales Of Justice from her, as any survivor is invited to do. The moment ripped an unexpected sob out of my chest.
Later, Jacqueline explains her sexual assault to Jane for a story, saying a male editor she respected raped her one night in the office. Did she ever consider pressing charges? "Not even for a second," Jacqueline, a feminist icon in the Bold Type world, admits, saying publicizing the crime would have "ended my career, or at the very least defined it." The editor, now a happily married mother of two sons, goes on to say, "You find a new normal" after surviving rape, "and it works so well that sometimes you don’t even know that it’s not. And I don’t think I realized how much of the weight I was still carrying."
Obviously, this was a heart-wrenching, thoughtful scene for Stevens and Hardin to film. Stevens, who got "emotional" while filming the moment, tells R29, "Everybody goes in with a little bit of nerves of, 'I hope that it’s done well and I hope that it’s written well.' Especially when you’re dealing with something like this, people obviously, rightly so, will be critical. So you want to make sure you do such a good job there’s nothing to criticize." Everyone was so conscious of making Jane and Jacqueline’s conversation as reality-based as possible, Stevens was allowed to adjust lines to make them seem more "natural."
That kind of on-set practice led to the feeling both Mia and Jacqueline are not defined by their status as rape survivors. Instead, it’s merely a part of their story, as are their passion projects, loved ones, and ambitions. Stevens touches on this, pointing out how sexual assault storylines oftentimes take over more than one episode of series. On Bold Type, however, that’s not precisely the case. "It doesn’t feel like now we need to make [the show] about [only] this because we haven’t explained ourselves fully," the actress says. "It’s done in a good way where we’re talking about it, and the importance of being able to speak on it, and for women who have dealt with that not be ashamed of it."
Currently it’s unclear if the Bold Type will get to explore Jacqueline’s history more, or that of the trio of Scarlet’s best friends: Jane, Kat Edison (Aisha Dee), and Sutton Brady (Meaghan Fahey). The show has yet to be renewed for a second season, although Stevens is "keeping her fingers crossed” it will be. When thinking about what she hopes is next for Jane, whose finale Scarlet story seems to be her emotional interview with Jacqueline, Stevens says, "I want to see Jane take more risks and not stay in what’s safe for her. And maybe this next journey she goes on to start-up Incite will kind of test that."
Jacqueline would be proud.
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).
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