Laurie Halse’s Anderson’s 1999 novel Speak was the first time I remember reading, and thinking about, sexual assault in a high school setting. I came to it a few years after it initially came out, right around the time the 2004 film version, starring Kristen Stewart, aired on Lifetime. I vividly recall how it made me feel as a pre-teen: sad, scared, worried, confused.
Since then, and especially since the 2016 #MeToo movement kicked off, the subject of women — young, old, famous, normal, shy, outgoing — being harassed, assaulted, or attacked by men has taken on a genre of its own when it comes to movies and TV shows.
The stark reality is that 69% of people who experience sexual assault are between 12 and 34 years old. That means that a high number of young people will experience an uncomfortable and non-consensual sexual experience in their life. This is what Pippa Bianco’s feature film debut, Share, unpacks: Is there a right or wrong way to deal with such a personal and upsetting situation? What if a woman doesn’t want the police or her parents involved? What if she just wants to put it behind her and move on? Why is it so hard to believe young women?
The film, which stars 21-year-old British actor Rhianne Barreto in her feature film debut, is complicated, illuminating, and thought-provoking. Bianco first debuted the film as a short at Cannes in 2015, where it won the Cinefondation with American Horror Story’s Taissa Farmiga in the lead role. Bianco, who also directed a recent episode of HBO’s Euphoria, recast the film and rewrote the rest of the script to bring the short, but impactful, film to life after it was bought by HBO films and A24. The feature version, which debuted at this year’s Sundance in January, went on two be a double prizewinner at the festival.
Before writing the script, Bianco read and followed 35 to 40 different cases, and spoke with six girls, two perpetrators, their families, and a range of experts to see all angles of the aftermath of a sexual assault. Because of this, Share feels almost like a documentary. Most of the time, the camera is fully focused on Barreto (who last appeared in Amazon’s Hanna) as 16-year-old Mandy, a star student and athlete who wakes up one morning after a particularly boozy high school party to an avalanche of texts asking her about a certain video going around. In it, a group of guys — friends of hers; guys she’s kissed and flirted with and befriended and trusts — are gathered around her passed-out body. Her pants are down, and she’s face down on the ground. They’re laughing. The video cuts off. From there, Mandy spends the next few days, then weeks, trying to figure out what happened that night because she can’t remember anything except for waking up alone in her own front yard. The film is less about the consequences for the boys who filmed her, and messed with her, but about Mandy’s silent and determined journey to figure out the truth.
Parents, police, and teachers become involved as friendships start to fray. Throughout all this, Mandy tries to sort out what this video really means for her — not for her friend group, or her popularity, but for her own mental health and recovery. For Mandy, it’s the lack of honesty that haunts her more than the videos being shared. Some viewers might not like or totally understand Mandy’s decisions or choices, especially in the film's final scene, but it doesn’t matter.
Barreto’s performance is amazing. Bianco’s directing is beautiful. But the film almost didn’t come together due to unforeseen immigration issues, forcing them to move production at the last minute from the United States to Canada to ensure Barreto, a U.K. citizen, could make it to set. Now, ahead of the feature film finally hitting HBO this Saturday July 27, Refinery29 sat down with the director, as well as the star, to talk about the challenges they faced filming, how Barreto stood out against 500 other auditions, and how, at the end of the day, there are no really “bad guys” in film.
Refinery29: The movie focuses squarely on Mandy, the survivor of an assault. Is this perspective one we haven’t seen enough of?
Pippa Bianco: “Yeah, it’s not about a police man or a detective. I felt that it should very rigorously be from her point of view — it is not an ensemble piece in that way...It was certainly intentional how we framed everyone except her parents, especially people she wouldn’t be intimate with like a lawyer or principal or detective. They would be dark presences in the frame. I did have to tell a lot of actors their faces would be offscreen, which is not their favorite thing to hear.”
The guys who assault Mandy are not written as traditional villains. How did you approach creating these characters?
P.B.: “Every single character in the film is me. If I can’t stand by the choices each of those people are making or the places they are coming from, then I won’t be able to make them human. The truth is almost everyone is trying to be good, and help each other, and do the right thing, and be the best versions of themselves to make their lives better. But they still do awful things and really hurt each other.
“To me, the question when writing is, how can you show the best of intentions lead to the worst of behavior? I think that is the only way to change behavior is to acknowledge that every person and every news story could be you. Every person who does inconceivable things could be you. That person is a human being and made that choice based on a culmination of experiences and pressures and context that created the person they’ve become. I don’t that to excuse any of the bad behavior because hurtful things are hurtful things, and it doesn’t make them any better to have had good intentions. Intentions are not enough. It’s more to say that I think you do more good for people on both sides of a painful equation by identifying a problem we can do something about and humanizing these people.”
In a pivotal scene, Mandy finally opens up to her dad, Mickey, played by J. C. Mackenzie, about the guilt she has around the night she was assaulted and videotaped — she wonders if it wouldn’t have happened it she didn’t drink, or didn’t act a certain way earlier in the evening. Her dad tells her, no, none of that matters. I thought that was such an important conversation to show.
P.B.: “I want to humanize ‘villains,’ but I also want to humanize our heroes so we don’t feel ashamed of our behavior. I don’t necessarily think what Mandy’s describing are ‘mistakes,’ but I do think they are things she is ashamed of. She feels that people judged her.
"There were people at various stages of the project and script who found it confusing. If she gets really drunk at a party, we may confuse an audience about what was right and what was wrong. I found that to be enraging because it has nothing to do with it in my mind. That is where that line from Mandy came from, me sort of speaking very directly to the people had asked me to change that character. If I really have to spell it out for you, I’ll spell it out for you: It doesn’t matter what she did or didn’t do — you don’t get to hurt people because of their behavior. That isn’t how it works.”
Rhianne Barreto: “[Filming that scene] was easy — I mean, it was hard, it was really hard, but in between takes, JC would say, 'Let’s listen to each other. Let’s go again. It doesn’t matter.' He was my dad in the movie, but he was also my acting dad. It is beautiful to work with an actor like that. Everyone cared and gave a chunk of their heart to that film, and we really produced something really beautiful.”
Pippa, you directed and worked on HBO's Euphoria, and I see a lot of similarities between the two projects. You’re showing stories of women who aren’t the typical high school girl character.
P.B.: “So often we immediately trivialize something because a teenage girl is at the center of it. I don’t think we do that to the same degree with young male characters. We have really little girls, and there’s a fantasy space we have for them. Then there are adults [taken seriously in films]. But teenage girls, we really belittle their experience...I am hungry for more content that dignifies and honors young people as people, not some being from another planet that we can’t understand.”
What about Rhianne’s audition stood out?
P.B: “This film was the kind of thing that could be swooshed into melodrama if you’re not careful. There’s a lot of pressure on younger actors in America to be part of a star machine and feel the pressures of fame, so everyone is an influencer and a model/actress/dancer/singer. That tends to engender a certain performance style, so I was really looking for someone who could embrace the silences in the film and have a lot of dignity and gravitas and strength in subtle ways. Rhianne was the first person who made me feel like that.”
Were you conscious of that when you were auditioning, Rhianne?
R.B.: “One of the things my acting teacher said that really stuck with me was, 'Don’t demonstrate, deal with it.' Without being a wanky actor, it is a lot about listening and not performing. I don’t think anyone in the world exists to display emotion. I have a problem with the word ‘emoting.’ Everyone is trying to keep a lid on something. It is way more interesting to watch someone try not to cry and someone try not to shout. That is so fucking interesting because that is how people exist.”
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).