Thursday, December 16, 2010

David Schwimmer's Trust to appeal R-rating, wants kids to see sensationalist view of online predators.

Millennium Entertainment has announced today that they are appealing the R-rating that was handed down to the David Schwimmer-directed thriller Trust. The film was rated R for 'the assault of a teenage girl, language, sexual content and some violence'. The gist of the appeal is that the film, which concerns parents (Clive Owen and Catherine Keener) reactions when their teenage daughter is sexually assaulted by someone she met online, should serve as a cautionary tale about the dangers of kids playing around online. First of all, if this is the kind of film that kids should see and discuss with their parents, would the film not benefit from an 'R' rating, which would in fact require parents to see it with their kids? More importantly, we should be asking if the film (which of course none of us have seen) or at least the prior marketing of said film (from Millennium Films, not Millennium Entertainment) was perhaps overstating the case. Point being, it's easy to imagine your kid being tricked online into meeting a stranger at the mall and getting attacked. But how often does that actually happen? Not as much as you think.

I wish I could find the clip from Frontline's dynamite 2008 documentary 'Growing Up Online', which basically debunked the whole 'cyber predators are everywhere' myth. But since I can't find that actual clip, I'll settle for an interview that the film's director gave with PBS to coincide with the premiere.

"As you said, that earlier report touched on the online predator issue, and yet this report seems to conclude that cyberbullying is perhaps the more prevalent danger. Were you expecting predators to be a bigger concern when you started researching this report?

Rachel Dretzin: Absolutely. Like many parents, I believed my primary responsibility when it came to Internet safety was to tell my children never, ever to give out their real name or address to anyone online. If they didn't do that, I surmised, I could relax. I assumed that the biggest danger to my kids -- to all kids -- was the threat of online predators.One of the biggest surprises in making this film was the discovery that the threat of online predators is misunderstood and overblown. Thedata shows that giving out personal information over the Internet makes absolutely no difference when it comes to a child's vulnerability to predation. Also, the vast majority of kids who do end up having contact with a stranger they meet over the Internet are seeking out that contact, at least at first.

Most importantly, all the kids we met, without exception, told us the same thing: They would never dream of meeting someone in person they'd met online. As a matter of fact, we had trouble making contact with kids online during our research. Most kids we approached were suspicious and loath to respond to requests for an interview over the phone. We tried everything -- links to our Web site, offers to send copies of films we had made -- but kids are conditioned not to talk to strangers online. It was oddly reassuring."

Furthermore, those who study actual child predators have found that the vast majority of arrests in this realm come from law enforcement agents who entice known pedophiles into arranging meetings and then bust them after the fact. Of the 3,744 people arrested for this kind of behavior in 2006, just 614 of them were actually making an apparent effort to entice actual kids for the purposes of sexual deviancy (the rest were ensnared and/or entrapped by police decoys). David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire discussed this with Lenore Skenazy (founder of FreeRangeKids). Once again, I'll let the experts speak to this (although the entire interview is worth reading):

"The notion that predators are using the Internet as an L.L. Bean catalog, that’s not what’s happening,” said Finkelhor. “That’s a very low-yield strategy for them.” Perverts trolling for cute kids on MySpace would have about as much luck dialing numbers out of the phone book and asking for a date. It just doesn’t work and they know it.

So instead they go looking for “low-hanging fruit. Kids who are going to be easy. And they do that much more by going to places where there’s already a kind of hint of sexual availability,” says Finkelhor.

Thus, skeeves tend to gravitate toward chat rooms geared to sexual topics like dating and romance, and sometimes to support groups for sexual minorities. In other words: Not Club Penguin. And not your kid’s Facebook page."

So if you want to treat Trust as a genre picture that plays on somewhat sensationalist fears as the backbone for old-fashioned exploitation thrills, have at it. But for the filmmakers to try to sell the idea that 'kids need to see the truth!' when the truth is quite the opposite of what the film seems to portray (judging purely from the now-vanished advertising campaign from Millennium Films at this point) is a bit disingenuous and not a little sleazy. We always talk about how much smarter our kids our when it comes to navigating the new online world, yet we are so quick to presume that they wouldn't at least as intelligent when it comes to the whole 'don't talk to strangers' thing.

I'm sure David Schwimmer's heart is in the right place (he is a founding board member of the Rape Foundation in Santa Monica, CA), and he's dead on when he talks to The Wrap about the backlog of untested rape kits. But the (possibly quite good) film that he's made should be treated like entertainment that might inspire a conversation or two about common-sense safety while online, not a public service that speaks holy gospel about the unstoppable threat that kids allegedly face from online sexual super-villains.

Scott Mendelson

Post-Note: Millennium Entertainment wrote me to inform me that they have yet to solidify any trailers or posters for the film, and that the marketing campaign that I discussed above was from Millennium Films, which was cutting materials in for foreign sales purposes from dailies prior to the film premiering at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Should Millennium Entertainment release a marketing campaign that bears further scrutiny, I shall let you know when said trailers and posters are released.


Anonymous said...

Tohla ! talk to strangers !

Tanya L said...

If it does drop from an R to a PG-13, the thing that will disturb me the most is that the MPAA would consider sexual violence to be ok, but consensual loving sex deserves an NC-17?

Tanya L said...

If it does drop from an R to a PG-13, the thing that will disturb me the most is that the MPAA would consider sexual violence to be ok, but consensual loving sex deserves an NC-17?


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