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  • Writer's pictureAlaina Booth

Stories of Sexual Assault - More like Job Training Manuals

The Assistant

Directed by Kitty Green

Succeeding in Hollywood depends a lot on both trust and how enjoyable you are to work with, but when that mentality becomes toxic and pushes people past their moral boundaries, it’s crucial to show people the importance of speaking up.

The Assistant, written and directed by Kitty Green, tells a story of a woman who can no longer stay silent about the abuse rampaging through her office. These stories are becoming increasingly popular, maybe because they serve as more than just films. The Assistant and films of its kind feel like job training for women in media.

Julia Garner plays the assistant, and the story takes us through a day in her life. In the New York office, she is subject to disrespect, takes fault where unnecessary, and increasingly becomes aware of sexual abuse in the workplace – to the point where she cannot stay silent. Speaking up, however, doesn’t bode well for her, and in the end, nothing changes. The assistant’s name, Jane, is seldom spoken. In fact, all of the other characters are nameless, marking how impersonal the atmosphere of the office is. Even as she runs down the names of the phone extensions, she refers to each one by their title rather than their name. This attribute of the script, as well as the cold, grey tones of the cinematography, immediately creates an unwelcoming story world that establishes the tone quickly and effectively.

It is appalling that sexual favors serve as a fast pass to professional success across media industries, and I applaud filmmakers who are exploring the complexity of these issues and calling attention to them. I feel as though many young women, before entering into the workforce, have no doubt in their mind about the decisions they would make when put into one of these questionable situations. However, this film takes into account the pressure of appearing professional and likeable. As someone who is well versed in reading and watching stories of women who have been abused in the workplace, these films are preparing me and other women by demonstrating that it’s not a black and white issue. There are cases that fall into the grey area, and being well versed in knowing when it’s necessary to speak up is unfortunately becoming part of the job description.

The longest scene in the story begins with the assistant walking into the main office, where she goes to say something about the scandalous actions that she suspects are going on in her office. The acting and the written dialogue in this scene were exquisite and the subtext strong. I came to know the male character so well in just a few of his words and actions – even as he puts on a caring and supportive front. My frustration that I shared with the assistant was the connection with the character that I crave to feel in films. This scene tugged at my emotions, and it contributed to this film’s authenticity.

However, this film’s honesty did lead it to a dissatisfying ending. If the young woman’s complaint had solved the problem (the executive was fired and victims spoke out), it wouldn’t reflect the reality of so many stories, unfortunately. I walked away from the film frustrated, but also aware that taking down these powerful male industry leaders is less likely than I want it to be. With its message that this issue is far from over, The Assistantaccomplished its goals well. I know it’s probably best to refrain from setting expectations based off of the trailer, but my only source of disappointment was based on the expectations I built. Suspenseful music and comments including the term “thriller” did not fit with this film’s tone or plot at all. While it did build tension, coining it as a suspenseful thriller is inaccurate, and the trailer set me up for disappointment with the lack of stakes and the slower pace of the film.

Kitty Green makes a statement but not without personal flare. Like I’ve said, other films with this same story have been told before, but with this film, I understood the obsession of power lies at the basis of these predators’ actions. While Bombshell shows the stories of multiple women working together to take a powerful male executive down, I felt the assistant’s solitude in facing this. Telling this story from different female personalities creates different “manuals” on how women can deal with these situations in the future. Perhaps this film resonated with me on a different level because of the current state of the world. It’s frustrating to see the effects of toxic power dynamics in the streets of America today.

Pushing those in positions of power to recognize their impact on society’s morals is at utmost importance with the current political climate. This starts with how you behave when no one is watching, or how you behave when you think no one is going to tell.

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