Around the height of the media attention surrounding the #MeToo movement, filmmaker Artemis Shaw began to track the public apologies issued by accused abusers.
“I was really struck by how a lot of the early apologies were truly poorly executed from a PR perspective,” she says. “My favorite was the Mario Batali one where he concluded with a recipe for pizza crust cinnamon rolls.”
But over time, Shaw saw how those apologies became “successful at weaponizing language from the movement itself,” Shaw says, “while still never actually fessing up to doing anything wrong.”
And so she channeled that critique into her short film Real Talk, a satire on both the commodification of assault survivors’ trauma and the hollowness of the apologies they’re given.
Real Talk follows up-and-coming singer Natalie as she prepares to confront the producer who exhibited grossly inappropriate behavior during a recording session. The showdown takes place on the fictional talk show ‘Real Talk.’ But the power Natalie stepped on the stage with is rapidly leeched by the producer’s ultra-slick mea culpa that the audience, and the show’s female host, swallow whole.
While most public apologies play out on social media, Shaw was intentional in staging her short within the framework of a talk show “because the audience is very tangible,” she says. “I liked that it felt like a Greek chorus.”
But she was also intentional in making sure it was the right kind of talk show, i.e. one that mirrored the kind of elitism that often leads to exclusionary feminism.
“I was looking at a lot of brands like Refinery29 and Glossier, these white woman-led brands that posture being very woke but are actually very exclusive with their pricing or with what skin tones they support. I was more interested in critiquing The Wing than critiquing The View,” Shaw says. “I wanted it to feel like woke, commodified, intersectional feminism.”
Real Talk joins the growing list of narrative projects, including The Assistant and Promising Young Woman, that are unpacking the abuses of power attached to the heightened consciousness around #MeToo.
While Shaw praises a film like The Assistant for its nuanced take, not on a direct assault but complicity in inappropriate behavior, she also urges a bit of caution for the genre overall.
“I think one thing we run the risk of is reaffirming pre-existing narratives in our effort to create quick trendy entertainment out of a very real issue that’s centuries long,” she says. “I get very disturbed about the idea that female characters always have to be empowered by the experience of speaking out without recognizing that often she’s taking an enormous toll on her personal well-being by doing this—even if it’s, quote-unquote, the right thing to do.”
Shaw says she was once asked at a Q&A for Real Talk why the film didn’t have a happy ending with its lead character taking her heroic moment in the sun.
“I was like, ‘It’s just how I feel,'” Shaw says. “I don’t feel empowered by #MeToo—I feel terrible. I’m glad this is being spoken about, but I already knew all of this. I want action to be taken, but I think a lot of women came out of #MeToo feeling traumatized and not like, ‘Rah-rah!'”