THE ACCUSED (1998)
(Note: If this post is your first encounter with my Feminist Film Moment postings, kindly read the rules of engagement before reading, commenting, etc.)
Written by Tom Topor
Directed by Jonathan Kaplan
Synopsis: A rape survivor and her prosecutor go after the men who cheered on the assault.
Moment: Prosecutor Kathryn Murphy apologizes to Sarah Tobias for cutting a plea deal and offers her a chance to tell her story.
Trigger Warning: Reference To Rape
Based loosely on the story of Cheryl Araujo, The Accused was arguably the first Hollywood picture to deal honestly with the way rape survivors are victimized by the criminal justice system. As such it has several obvious feminist moments.
I selected this one because it isn’t obvious. The film does a good job of showing the multiple ways in which classism throws a kink in the wheels of justice, and one way is by delineating the class differences between survivor Sarah and prosecutor Kathryn. At the start of the film, Kathryn is an ambitious by-the-book attorney for the state and agrees to a plea deal without consulting Sara because she has brought into the notion that Sara – a working-class woman with a criminal history who was drunk and high at the time of the assault – wouldn’t make a sympathetic enough victim. After Sara confronts Kathryn for selling her out, Kathryn seeks another way to achieve justice for Sara.
So this is what I appreciate about this less-than-obvious feminist moment. Here is a woman of privilege – socio-economic privilege – who not only admits that she was wrong, she finds a way to make it right. In a great scene before this one, after having her change of consciousness, Kathryn takes on the men in her office. For her to go from aligning herself with the patriarchal system that failed Sarah to vowing to expose the district attorney’s corruption if they stop her from prosecuting the men who cheered rather than stopped the rape for criminal solicitation is one of the film’s obvious feminist moments.
But for Kathryn to go to Sara and apologize to her is also a feminist moment. It’s a good cinematic example of allyship -- using one’s privilege to do the right thing even at risk to one’s immediate self-interest. It’s also a depiction of the power of sincere apology and corrective action. Kathryn could’ve been incredibly righteous about finally doing the right thing, but she didn’t go there. She comes humble and doesn’t expect Sarah to give her cookies for doing the right thing. And that personal gesture – and the spirit behind it – is just as important as her political one.