Not all TV shows are equally important. Some matter more than others. Some are desperately needed because they fill a void in representation that is unforgivable. Sweet/Vicious, a dramedy about two female college students who become vigilantes in order to bring campus rapists to some form of justice, is one of those shows.
I was lucky enough to attend the ATX TV Festival Sweet/Vicious last weekend in Austin. The creators and cast of the recently-canceled MTV series were on hand to talk about what the show has meant to them. The tears shed both by a majority of the panel and a majority of the audience viscerally highlighted how desperately this show is needed in a culture filled with institutions, systems, and people that knowingly or unknowingly silence the voices of sexual assault survivors everyday.
The tears weren’t uncommmon on set, either. Aisha Dee, who plays Kennedy in the TV show, spoke on the panel about how emotional she (and, sometimes, other actors) would get while filming the show. Yes, sometimes this was during a particularly emotional scene — like the hallway scene when Jules tells Kennedy the truth about her sexual assault or the library scene where Kennedy apologizes for not believing her — but, often, it was during fight scenes.
“I would come just to watch because I loved to watch it so much,” said Dee. “These girls are incredible. All of these women. I would sit there, watching them beat up a bunch of bad sorority [guys], and I would just be crying, and I don’t know why…”
Women crying during female-centric movie or TV fight scenes seems to be an increasingly talked about subject. Following the release of Wonder Woman, many female viewers took to the internet to talk about their emotional reaction to some of the film’s major action scenes.
Kelsea Stahler addressed the subject head no over at Bustle in her article “Why Are Women Crying During Wonder Woman Fight Scenes,” writing:
Not only did this female superhero film get made, not only was it made by an “untested” woman (I guess Oscars don’t count, but I’ll table that rage for now), but when it comes to intense action scenes, the film does not hold back in a way that others may have with a female lead. And sure, it feels odd to call a moment that involves countless broken bad guy bones and piles of rubble magical, but there are so many implications and emotions built into the experience of these scenes — namely, that female viewers are feeling heard and seen by the Hollywood powers that be in a way that is incredibly rare. Representation — in this case, the kind that so many women have craved since they became superhero fans as kids — is magical, full stop.
For most of us, especially those who are no strangers to the action and superhero genres, it seems out of left field to begin weeping during something as thrilling and exhilarating as a Wonder Woman action sequence. But the tears — alongside the excitement and the thrill — are actually an incredibly normal and natural response.
These tears are often tears of relief, of both happiness as well as sorrow. I think the same was true of the tears in the Sweet/Vicious panel. They were tears of relief that Sweet/Vicious was made at all. They were tears of grief that this desperately needed show might never see a second season. They were tears of sorrow for all of the survivors whose stories continue to be ignored by pop culture and by society at large.
Whether you recognize it or not, you know many people who have been sexually assaulted — or you yourself are a survivor of sexual assault. That’s just a fact. One in every six American women has been the victim or rape or attempted rape in her lifetime, with women ages 18-24 (aka college-aged women) at an elevated risk of sexual assault. Unless you’re a very committed hermit, this is part of your own reality or the reality of many of the people in your life.
“For me, what Sweet/Vicious does so beautifully, was a gift to us,” said series star Eliza Bennett, “is that it doesn’t just explore Jules’ story, but it tells a perspective of what it’s like… what rape is like to effect everyone, not just the victim.”
What’s it like for your step-brother to be a rapist? What’s it like when you find out your boyfriend is a rapist? And what does that look like? And Kennedy’s trauma is horrific, what she has to go through as well. This man that she loves, she finds out he did the most horrific thing to her best friend. That’s a process. That takes time. It took Jules time to tell Kennedy. It takes Kennedy time to process that information, too.
Bennett got emotional when she spoke about the research she had done for the series, not only reading books like Missoula by Jon Krakauer, but talking to survivors.
I’m playing a sexual assault survivor, so the most important thing was listening to people. And that was hard because… Oh my god, I’m so emotional. OK, hold on. Because that’s when I found out that half of my friends had been raped and had never told anyone, and that’s what’s so horrific. It’s like, I’d have never found that out unless I’d done this show, and I just think it’s everywhere and we have no idea. Which is why it’s sad that this show is cancelled.
In addition to the tears, there is often the anger. When asked by moderator Mo Ryan how she channelled the rage Jules expresses at various points in Sweet/Vicious Season 1, Bennett said: “I think the rage is there,” elaborating:
Pretty much every woman I’ve ever met has an experience, even if it’s as simple as clutching their keys as they’re walking back to their car because they feel in danger. Having your ass grabbed. All of those things happen to us regularly. Catcalling. All of those things. And so many that I was so desensitized that I thought it was normal. And, doing the show, you kind of have a backlog of all the things that have happened in your life and you go, ‘Oh, that wasn’t OK that that person said that to me. And I felt really small then. And I felt that my body was important, but nothing inside was.’ You know, I think we’ve all had those moments.
Series creator Jen Kaytin Robinson also got emotional while talking about the necessity of this show and the process of listening to survivors tell her their stories, saying: “Thousands of people have told me that they’ve been sexually assaulted, but what this show has done and I think what the show has validated in so many is that they’re not alone and they’re heard and what they went through was not a one-off. It happens and it’s happening and people care about it.”
Robinson also recognizes the many allies who sprung up around the show, calling them “just as loud as the survivors” in their efforts to “learn more about it [and] be a part of doing what they can to help and to make this better.”
Sweet/Vicious‘ Ophelia, who supports Jules throughout her process of recovery in Season 1, is one of the show’s chief examples of an ally. Though Ophelia is not a sexual assault survivor (though she does have a scare during a vigilante mission at one point in Season 1), she is just as angry about what is happening on campus as Jules is.
Past that, Ophelia has her own struggles, something series star Taylor Dearden talked about during the panel…
There was a beautiful moment I think anyone who has anxiety and depression definitely latched on to. When Ophelia was talking to Evan and saying that there’s an astonishing amount of guilt that she was feeling because, even if she herself wasn’t assaulted, there’s a darkness in her. And that’s equally valid. As much as we as women and we as people feel the need to somehow find a reason for our feelings, that the feelings alone are good enough.
A great point to be made to a room filled with crying people, let me tell you.
“We have a long way to go,” Robinson said when discussing Sweet/Vicious‘ impact on a pop culture that has so few thoughtful, earnest, female-centric stories about sexual assault, but she is immensely proud of the show and grateful to the women — both on-screen and behind-the-camera — who gave themselves to this show.
[These women] gave their whole selves to this show and, because of that, because of their dedication and their commitment and us working really hard on this, we were able to break through and we were able to cut through, even for 10 episodes and grab someone on the other end of that television and say: ‘You fucking matter.’
If you’d like to help find a home for Sweet/Vicious Season 2, Robinson encouraged fans to spam the Netflix show request page and/or to tweet using the hashtag #SaveSweetVicious.
To read more about Sweet/Vicious’ ATX panel, check out our article about what Season 2 would looke like. If you’d like to watch the first act of Sweet/Vicious Episode 1, head over here.