Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Importance of Telling Women's Stories: An Interview with #Horror's Tara Subkoff [Contributor: Lynnie Purcell]

#Horror isn’t your standard paranormal/slasher fare. The horror of the story lies in the horrible ways we sometimes treat each other and ourselves. It is an exploration of the power of words, bullying, and how social media is in every moment, every house, inescapable and fiercely brutal. You can’t escape your phone or the words that bullies post on social media. The words follow their victims. The bullies encourage young boys and girls to kill themselves, and they do. It is a very real issue, and for Tara Subkoff, the director and writer of #Horror, no ghost, or demon, or haunted doll can compete with the brutalities we inflict upon each other on a daily basis. 

In her directorial debut, Subkoff tackles the issues of bullying, the disconnection we face as a society (even as we become more connected globally), women treating each other as the enemy, and the glass house nature of the Internet. Subkoff takes the subject matter of the film seriously and delves into it with honesty and sincerity. The movie is scary, it’s horrifying... and it’s the everyday reality for many young women and men around the world.

Tara Subkoff has a history of pointing out problems within modern culture. Her clothing line, Imitation of Christ, reveals how our consumerism has become a priority over our need to protect the earth and the waste we, as a nation, tend to ignore in order to be fashionable. Brave, uncensored, and as honest as she can get, Subkoff doesn’t believe that art should ignore the realities of life.

During our interview, she quoted her friend Anjelica Huston as saying, “Write the stories that are the hardest to write, the ones you don’t want to tell, the ones that you’re ashamed about, the ones that are scary. Those are the ones that we need to tell to each other.” This seems to be the mantra of #Horror and a reflection of Subkoff’s need to speak of things that matter as a society and as women.

A self-proclaimed feminist, she makes the point in the film and in the interview that women have to support each other and be the answer against bullying and inequality. (#LadiesSupportingLadies) The characters in #Horror show what can seriously go wrong when women compete, when they tear each apart. “I think one of the challenges in getting equal pay and all the things we fight for is in women not supporting other women,” she noted. “It’s not good. I think that it’s important to have consciousness around that issue and not tear each other down, or bring each other down. We have to stick together.”

That is why Subkoff loves the idea of young women watching her film and connecting with it however they can in order to get the most out of it. But she also really wants these women to take away this consciousness. Subkoff wants them to know that their words matter and that they have real consequences. Words can destroy lives, and this is an issue she addresses extensively in the film.

#Horror pushes at the boundaries of mainstream culture. She is driven to be heard and encourages other filmmakers to use their voices to tell stories that matter. There is power in film, and when used right, it can start a dialogue. She believes in not wasting her voice.

“I’m not interested in films that have become cute entertainment-focused or business-focused. I understand it, but I also think you can make things that do that and still strike a chord and push the limits and say something. And I do feel like I have something to say. It’s pretty meaningful and important, and I want to be heard and hope people hear it.”

Subkoff is passionate as she explains how women can change the focus of filmmaking for the better, be the voice the world needs, and encourage women to love and support each other fully: “We have to start to question what our lives are about and what’s important, where we are as a culture and where we’re headed, and are we paying attention to this?” she says. “... I just think that women have incredibly active and creative minds. We need to pull together and stop thinking about men, appearances, and how we’re supposed to be, look like... What if we were able to focus on other things? And we made movies about other things? And it spread? That would be pretty interesting. I think.”

She believes that it’s up to women to tell the stories women really want to hear. Female voices need to be heard and their stories matter. When asked for words of encouragement for future female directors looking to break into the industry she had this to say:

“Do it! Just do it! I can’t believe I’m doing a Nike ad, but I feel like I waited too long. I was so scared to do this... I think we feel like we can’t do things, or that we’re not good enough, and we are! There are a lot of stories to tell! I do think women’s stories are important. I think they are worth telling.”

She also adds about #Horror and her desire to make it, “This is a movie that is made by a woman and definitely for young women and everyone really, but I do feel like women really connect to the story and connect to it.”

Another issue that is woven throughout the narrative of #Horror from the very first frames is the truth that we are an overly digitally connected society. The more we connect via social media, the less we connect in real life. While good when used in moderation, our phones have become an addiction. We are disconnected to the people and issues around us –– because our phones are always there, always a barrier. They are a reflection of our tendency to find self-validation through likes, favorites, and reblogs. We have started caring more about getting likes than we have about having meaningful, respectful conversations. Subkoff was very specific about writing this into the film; she mocks the culture throughout, she points out how it has crept into daily life of families, young adults, and even parents, and how it is hurting people and contributing to the problem of bullying. She mentions it during our discussion, too:

“We’re all slaves to our phones. I’m sitting in a room now and people are just looking at screens and people look at screens until they go to sleep at night. I think people fall asleep looking at screens. I think that we’re so disconnected from each other, we’re so disconnected as a culture, we’re losing empathy and compassion, and we’re turning into a totally narcissistic culture. And there’s a real danger in that. It’s scary.”

#Horror was, at times, uncomfortable, always brutal, and the girls say things that many wouldn’t say to their worst enemies. The writing pulls no punches and everyone has something mean to say about another person. There are fights, fractions within the group, and tears galore. The build-up of anger and aggression remains focused on the girls. It feels real. It makes you squirm. It’s based on true events. Anjelica Huston’s words could not be more accurate in regards to Subkoff’s film. It’s scary, it’s rough, and it’s exactly what we need to hear.

When talking about her inspiration for these realistic, brutal scenes, Subkoff  offered explanation. “Some of my close, close friends have kids who were twelve at the time and [they went] through...  cyberbull[ying]. And it went pretty far –– so far that one of the kids had to change schools and moved all the way to boarding school in England. It followed her there. I thought how incredible it is that you cannot escape [cyberbullying] anymore. How horrible, really –– how horrifying. Much more horrifying to me than something paranormal. So I thought of the idea of writing this, then I started researching different true stories of cyberbullying, and all the suicides, and finding out the statistics and the increasing numbers of that and reading the stories. It’s beyond belief.”

With the continued rise of social media, the bullying is inescapable and the consequences can reach far into the future. Subkoff added,  “... it’s a monster. I was bullied from about ten until twelve, like pretty bad. Especially on the bus. It was excruciating... I would ride the bus and try to figure out how to walk to school. But now, forget the bus. It’s the bus all the time! Even if you put the phone down or away, you know it’s still going on and it’s... there for all the world to see. It’s there on that first job interview, or applying to college, or when they get their first boyfriend or girlfriend, and [it’s] there forever. [Cyberbullying] is on a different, global scale... I think it’s just unbearable, and I understand why there is such a rise in teen suicide because of cyberbulling and bullying online.”

Subkoff’s passion for meaningful messages bleeds through into her art. Creating things that reflect her genuine concerns on society and current events that she feels need to be looked at honestly and she wants you to think. She wants you to take a long, hard look at the status quo. She believes that people can be the change they want to see in the world.

#Horror will be available in theaters and On Demand on November 20. Starring Chloe Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne, Timothy Hutton, Taryn Manning, and Stella Schnabel, it is a horror movie that will resonate long beyond the final credits.

Below are a few resources for bullying. If you or anyone you know is affected, don’t be afraid to get help, find counselling, and find a safe place. You are not alone. 
Bullying Help Hotlines


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