For the “Ladies and Gentleman” episode of Master Of None, creator Aziz Ansari takes a step back. Instead the teleplay comes from Sarah Peters and Zoe Jarman, and Lynn Shelton directs. Peters and Jarman take concepts from Ansari’s standup and brings them to life.
The opening scene is a sequence contrasting Ansari’s character Dev and friend Arnold walking home late at night. At no point did Dev or Arnold feel any danger. In fact, they seemed to have a fun walk home.
Dev’s friend Diana was also at the bar but her walk home at night was quite different. In the scene Diana is on high alert as she walks home. She ends up getting followed to her own apartment by a creepy guy who keeps calling himself a “nice guy”.
Diana’s entire walk home was a nightmare and at moments difficult to watch. Peters, Jarman and Shelton were able to highlight the very issue behind “rape culture” that Ansari, alone, would have had trouble.
When we found out that Jessica M. Thompson was premiering The Light of the Moon a film aimed at not glorifying rape or to use it as some backstory or even as a revenge plot at SXSW we knew we had to attend. It also helped that one of our friends, Michael Cuomo, is a producer on the film.
Early on protagonist, Bonnie, played by the transcendent Stephanie Beatriz, of Brooklyn Nine-Nine fame, is walking home, alone, after a late night with friends at a bar. Bonnie a confident, sardonic, and badass woman walks home with her headphones on, head up high enjoying her tunes and the view of the Bushwick’s graffiti walls when she gets dragged into an alley and raped by a stranger.
Bonnie’s male counterparts, her colleague who was at the bar with her and her boyfriend who stood her up to attend a work event made it home safe. Much like “Master of None,” “The Light of the Moon” drives home how different a walk home for a man is compared to that of a woman. Also how different men and women are treated and how hard it is to understand the other’s outlook.
For the remainder of the film Bonnie comes to terms with what happened to her. Her rape reverberates and effects all the characters she interacts with. At first Bonnie does not tell anyone about her rape, besides her boyfriend played by the very likable Michael Stahl-David.
On the surface Bonnie refuses to be treated as a victim and prefers to keep it a secret. However, Jessica M. Thompson turns the camera on to the viewer and blames us for Bonnie’s choice. Bonnie is afraid to tell her colleagues, her friends, her mother, and even the cops about what happened to her.
But why? When Bonnie is courageously at the hospital getting examined as part of her rape kit, cops are questing her about how much she had to drink. They ask how many guys she was dancing with. It is one of the toughest scenes to watch, Bonnie is turned into a victim, yet again. Mere hours after being raped. This time in front of the very people who are tasked to help her.
Throughout the film Bonnie questions if she asked for it. Did drinking too many cause her to get raped? If she wasn’t wearing her headphones at night would she have gotten abused? Did she dance with too many guys? These questions are questions men don’t ever have to think about and are never asked.
In the Q&A that followed the film, director Jessica M. Thompson stressed the importance for her to work with a woman cinematographer, her longtime friend Autumn Eakin to really hone in on how women feel.
Much like how Ansari handed over his show to three women to tell the “ladies” story of “Ladies and Gentleman,” “The Light of the Moon” is raw and real and powerful because of Thompson, Eakin and Beatriz. Women have stories to tell and the best people to tell those stories are women.
Following the premiere screening the cast and crew marched together down Austin streets protesting to end rape culture. Women don’t ask to be stalked or harassed or raped. Just because they drink doesn’t mean they asked for it. Just because they are walking home with headphones on, oblivious to their surroundings isn’t an open invitation to harass them. Lastly, just because a woman is wearing something that a man thinks of as suggestive doesn’t mean they are asking to be sexually harassed.
A few nights after the screening I was hanging out with a colleague (a young woman in her early 20s) at one of the music venues in Austin. A 40-year old man approached her to tell her that her jacket looks like a vagina. He was alluding that her jacket was inviting to his penis. I looked at him in shock and said “That’s your pick-up line?”. He quickly walked away not wanting to engage with me. My colleague looking disgusted and violated, looked at me with disappointment that I didn’t say or do more.
Audiences agree. The people at SXSW agree that rape culture needs to end. More women need to tell their stories and educate men on what it is like being a woman in a culture that glorifies rape. In a culture that says men can say anything to woman, or grab a woman. The Light of the Moon won the Audience Award for Narrative Feature at SXSW this year and I hope it continues a very important conversation in our country and our world.