On March 11th, 2020 Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to twenty-three years in prison on the charges of criminal sexual act in the first degree and third-degree rape, marking a huge win for the #metoo movement. Survivors of sexual violence worldwide rejoiced and celebrated, claiming that the sentencing signalled a landmark decision for survivors everywhere. The sentencing would change entertainment industries everywhere-- but in what ways?
Netflix’s new Indian Hindi-language film “Guilty”, directed by Ruchi Narain starring Kiara Advani has recently entered into the discourse of the #metoo movement in India. The film follow’s Advani’s character, Nanki, a college student in India who grapples with sexual assault claims made against her partner, Vijay by another student named Tanu. In her pursuit against Vijay, Tanu uses Twitter and #metoo to seek justice, while Vijay tries to convince Nanki and his college-mates that he did not assault Tanu. The film centres on Nanki as the protagonist, as she struggles with who and what to believe: a woman who claims survivorship or her partner who says he is not a rapist.
While “Guilty” contributes to the larger #metoo movement discourse around the world and specifically in India, many would argue that the film is counter-productive to the cause of survivors. For starters, the film buys into a sensationalized form of rape culture by centering the entire plot of a film on “did he or did he not?”, as much of the film is based on Advani’s character Nanki trying to find out if her partner is in fact guilty. Second, the film falls into common tropes of victim-blaming by setting up Tanu’s character as promiscuous and scandalous, while even suggesting that perhaps she is lying the whole time. Often in the beginning of the film, Tanu is shown actively pursuing Vijay in ways that went above and beyond in being cringey, awkward, and borderline nonconsensual. Most of all, while the film is centered on Tanu’s alleged assault, the film’s protagonist is not even the person the conflict in question is regarding. By centering Nanki as the main character, the accuser and accused are mostly sidelined.
Many suggest that when films like “Guilty” use traumatic experiences like rape and sexual assault as plotlines for thriller films, not only are they buying into the sensationalization of sexual violence, they’re also-- literally-- buying into the commercialization of it. Films like “Guilty” make a profit off the problems survivors experience every day.
“Guilty” as a film is also especially under the microscope as India and the world waits for the execution of the four perpetrators involved in the infamous 2012 Nirbhaya case. Folks in India and around the world are especially tuned into how survivors of sexual violence are being brought to justice and the consequences perpetrators are facing. And while we witness never-before-seen measures being taken legally against perpetrators like Weinstein and those involved in the Nirbhaya case, while we see unprecedented rulings being taken by judges everywhere, we see that perhaps that sentiment isn’t shared by all. Popular culture continues to perpetuate sensationalized rape culture and disbelief for survivors. Popular culture puts us on the edge of seats when sexual violence is the plot. Popular culture continues to force us to ask, “do we believe her or not?”