Directors: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
Cast: Daisy Coleman, Charlie Coleman, Melinda Coleman
Watch Audrie & Daisy online in the UK: Netflix
This timely and important documentary was picked up by Netflix after a strong debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. In both theme and intention, it stands alongside Kirby Dick’s searing, unmissable The Invisible War (which looked at repeated rape case cover-ups on university campuses) as a film that speaks out against rape culture and entitlement, while also factoring in the devastating effect of social media, particularly in the lives of its teenage victims.
The film begins with the case of Audrie Potts, a 15 year old from Saratoga, California, who got drunk at a party and passed out. Her male classmates – people she considered friends – stripped her naked and drew obscene things all over her body with permanent marker pens, as well as taking photos and videos. With the images circulating at her school, Audrie grew increasingly desperate and, convinced her life was over, committed suicide eight days after the incident.
The film then looks at a second case, in Maryland, Missouri, where 14 year old Daisy Coleman and her 13-year-old best friend, Paige Parkhurst, were both raped (with Daisy also being videoed), after getting extremely drunk with a group of 17-year-old boys, who were teammates of Daisy’s sporting older brother, Charlie.
The cases are linked, somewhat tenuously, by teenager Delaney Henderson, who had a similar thing happen to her. Having been moved by Audrie’s case and wondering if she might have been saved if she’d known she wasn’t alone, Delaney reaches out to Daisy, with the pair subsequently forming a friendship and becoming part of a survivor’s group that aims to offer support to other young rape victims.
Cohen and Shenk lay out both cases using to-camera interviews (including two of the perpetrators in Audrie’s case, who were ordered to give interviews as part of a settlement), police footage, news reports, social media postings and animation (partly to obscure the boys’ identities, partly as an artistic choice in a brief segment later on). Both cases are extremely disturbing in and of themselves, but the film induces a further level of rage and frustration when it details the aftermath of each one, with the boys being effectively let off, despite confessions, and the town of Maryland evidently more concerned about its own reputation than about finding justice for Daisy – indeed, it’s strongly hinted that Daisy’s case was quickly dropped because the perpetrator was a star athlete and the grandson of an influential congressman.
What’s more telling still is the cheerfully sexist attitude displayed by Maryland Sheriff Darren White, who says things like “Don’t underestimate the need for attention, especially among young girls”. The film is illuminating in its interview with Audrie’s best friend, who reveals the pressure girls are under when it comes to things like sexting, something that could be the subject of a documentary in itself.
The main problem with the film is that it lacks focus – after telling the girls’ stories, the directors seem unwilling to dig deeper and don’t explore the concept of online bullying to any satisfactory degree, while the flashy animation techniques seem disjointed and ultimately serve as a distraction. However, these are minor quibbles that shouldn’t prevent you from seeking out an urgent and necessary film.
Audrie & Daisy is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.