Well, just when we thought we’d seen everything we ever needed to see on the topic of consent, along comes a video so fantastically clear and powerful that we can’t believe no one’s covered it from this angle before.
James Is Dead, a short by Providence, Rhode Island-based Blue Seat Studios, has a pretty straightforward premise. Using simple animation and subtly subversive humour, the video depicts a conversation between two university-aged students discussing the horrific events of the previous Friday night: their mutual acquaintance, James, has been murdered at a party, and no one stopped it from happening.
At first, the topic of conversation seems bizarre (like, who gets murdered in cold blood at a party?), but slowly, the underlying meaning of the women’s words comes into focus. While one woman is devastated by the tragedy and chagrined that something so horrific could happen to James, the other begins to question whether James might have deserved his fate. After all, she says, he was probably drinking; he was too friendly with strangers; he was wearing something that made it easier to get murdered; hey, maybe he even wanted it to happen! And through the litany of excuses intended to undermine James and shift the blame for the murder onto his shoulders, the video’s message becomes impossible to ignore: these are arguments we’ve heard before, and the parallels to victim-blaming in sexual assault cases are both accurate and chilling.
Despite the fact that James Is Dead was released back in June 2016 – and in our humble opinion, is tragically under-viewed – the message is as timely and relevant as ever. (We’re thinking here of the recent court case in Nova Scotia in which a judge acquitted a taxi driver who allegedly sexually assaulted a drunk and unconscious passenger, stating that “clearly, a drunk can consent.”) In fact, we’d go so far as to say that the video is mandatory viewing for folks who are inclined to make excuses for sexual assault perpetrators, or who need a little push to see how ludicrous blaming victims actually is.