The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Audrie & Daisy.
How did you decide to make these stories into a feature film?
Bonni Cohen: John and I are a married couple – we’ve been making films together for almost twenty years now. And we’ve done a lot of hard films. We seem to sort of gravitate towards them. That could be analyzed at some point! But this was… you know, we’re raising two teenagers of our own. And all kinds of issues come up when you’re raising teenagers. The one that was really big in our household was social media and social media use. We weren’t having problems with it, but it was just so clear to us how different our take and their take was on social media, and how it’s used, and how you glean identity from it, etc. So we thought that was interesting. We started thinking about social media as a possible way to sort of get involved in a new film project. We have some friends who run an organization called Futures Without Violence in San Francisco, and they do a lot of work around domestic violence and particularly sexual assault. They came to us sort of at the same time, talking about how important it would be to get into the issues of teenage sexual assault, and reach kids earlier around these issues. So we started to think about that as well, and thought, you know, if we could find cases in the country where those two things came together– the wild west of social media as our kids are experiencing it, along with what seems to be a more prevalent existence of sexual assault in teenagers; if we could find a community or communities where that was happening, we could find some really interesting fodder for a film. So we started to look into cases that had gone public, and as you can imagine, they’re few and far between. That’s because the kids are underage and their parents often keep their stories private. When they go public it’s because of social media, or because of an activist disposition, or because of a court case. And so we started to do the research, and we found that obviously Daisy’s case had a lot publicity, Audrie’s did too for other horrific reasons, and we kind of went from there. We started to contact the families… and there was no going back after that.
“After learning about Audrie’s case, I realized that even though my case was over it’s not over for a lot of victims and survivors.”
What was your initial response to being contacted by the filmmakers?
Daisy Coleman: Initially I was partial to doing a film, because I had just gotten over my case going viral. After learning about Audrie’s case, I realized that even though my case was over it’s not over for a lot of victims and survivors. So I decided to go forward with it.
How did you connect with the advocacy group we see at the end of the film?
DC: There had been discussion about meeting up with that advocacy group before. But the first time we ever met was actually captured on the film as you see it in the final cut, which is pretty amazing.
Tori, can you describe how you became involved in the film, and where the inspiration came from for the song that concludes the film?
Tori Amos: Well, when I saw the film, I couldn’t speak afterward. Emotionally, it still… I’m processing it because we’ve all heard about the cases at universities with college-age students. But the fact that this has permeated into high school, and now middle into school is so upsetting. We learned that there are girls who were twelve years old who are sending explicit photos of themselves to boys in their school. And they had a shared email account. And it was almost as if they were trading baseball cards with these pictures. And so, processing the power of the film lead me to something in Daisy’s journey, in her story: Monsters are made, not born. And the muses said to me, ‘that’s your way in.’ But you must honor both Audrie and Daisy, and so it’s heroines: they are not born, they are made. And it was important that the song reflected the journey of both girls, and the phoenix out of the ashes was really inspired by Daisy.
What was your experience dealing with people who perhaps hold different views on the ethics of sexual assault? I’m thinking of those people who – essentially – side with the perpetrators of these crimes so unabashedly.
JS: It’s a very intimate subject matter. It affects people in a deeply personal way. The violent aspect of it, the kind of disruption of kids lives as they’re coming of age, and really learning about who they are. And for that reason, and since the territory of making a film in suburban America, or in rural America, is very familiar to Bonni and I (because we’re from there, and the scenes are kind of familiar places in terms of location), getting people to trust us to the point where they’d talk to us on camera… it was very delicate. There was a lot of fear. You know, we kind of have this funny two-headed thing going on in America where we’re sort of obsessed with sexuality, and we see so much of it these days… but in other ways I think we’re still very Puritanical, and we fear it, and we don’t want to talk about it. So when those two things collide – especially when there are legal cases going on about it – there’s just a huge amount of fear. I mean, people would be afraid in Maryville to even speak to us because they were afraid they might lose their job if they came out and publicly supported Daisy. The same was true in Audrie’s case. When we were filming on the street in Saratoga, people would come out of their houses and start yelling at us to take a hike… for fear that their property value would go down if Saratoga became the place that’s associated with this crime! Our feeling was that it really touches a nerve. Not necessarily for the wrong reasons– it truly does touch a personal nerve for some people who have been hurt and violated. It’s just touchy subject matter all around.
What are your thoughts on the best ways to end the cycle of violence the film elucidates?
DC: I feel like the best route to go is to educate people on their rights, and about what they can do other than just be a bystander when something awful is happening in your presence. To teach people how to react if someone confides in you regarding something bad that may have happened. Because that person is so important to victims– to have someone to speak to.
BC: The other very deep hopeful note in the film is Charlie Coleman [Daisy’s older brother]. He also had his own form of bullying and abuse alongside Daisy. These were his friends who were there that night. And no one did the right thing. And he is doing incredible work with younger athletes, just organically, not because he’s studied it, or because he’s thinking he’s doing something specific. Just naturally, he’s imparting to younger boys the right way to act. The right way to behave. Coaches have huge influence over their players as we know, and this organization I mentioned earlier, Futures Without Violence, they have a program called Coaching Boys into Men where they specifically work with coaches around the country in middle school and high school as part of the athletic program to educate boys. And so, I find that very hopeful. Because the earlier we get that message to young people the better. As I think the film makes clear, the criminal justice system is not where you want to find yourself if you’re a victim. Once you get to that point, it’s too far. So we have to intervene much earlier, start educating earlier, and think creatively about how do that. And hopefully that message comes across as well.
JS: I think a lot of social movements basically turn on a basic question: When does something become a very basic choice between right and wrong, or cool and uncool, and which way do you go? It’s no longer “cool” to deny gay and lesbian and transgender people their rights. And it was cool to do that in the past. But you know, there are moments in time… At one point it was cool to drink and get behind the wheel of your car. But in the ’80’s that became uncool. Our hope is that it will be uncool pretty soon to not protect a girl if she’s had too much to drink. It’ll be uncool to be one of the guys – or girls – who just goes along with what’s going on around them. It’s going to rapidly become one of those binary choices. It already has in the minds of many people. But for the mass society, and our basic understanding of this issue, if you look at what’s going on out there in books, and magazine articles, and films, there are a lot of people who have already realized the right thing. It’s just a matter of films like this, and Tori’s work, and people like Daisy of getting out there and yelling, screaming, as loud as we can until everyone knows the truth.