Directors Trish Adlesic & Geeta Gandbhir Expose The Rape Kit Backlog In ‘I Am Evidence’ Documentary

As a result of the #MeToo movement, we are seeing a tipping point in the way we dialog as a society about sexual assault, tackle rape culture, and value victims and their experiences. This is as important as it is overdue. While the emphasis in this movement has been on uplifting the voices of especially women who have been silenced by the culture, on the flip side there is an even bigger problem for those who have chosen to speak up.

Around the United States today, there are estimated to be hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in in warehouses and buildings, some of which have been there for decades. What does this say about how the fundamental aspects of our justice system values women? An eye-opening new documentary on HBO called ‘I Am Evidence’ is exposing just how deeply entrenched the rape kit back log problem really is.

The documentary, directed by Trish Adlesic (Oscar nominee for Best Documentary ‘GASLAND’) and Geeta Gandbhir (Primetime Emmy award winner for ‘By the People: The Election of Barack Obama’ and ‘When the Levees Broke: A requiem in Four Acts’) and produced by actress Mariska Hargitay (‘Law and Order: SVU’) delivers compelling stories from women across the country who could’ve been another one of the thousands of rape victims who just never heard back from law enforcement about their test kit, but decided to speak up and demand answers.

One of the women leading the charge to get these rape kits tested and see perpetrators finally brought to justice is Kym Worthy, the Wayne County Prosecutor in Michigan who is seen teaming up with Mariska to raise awareness publicly about the gravity of this issue and why it is time to end the backlog. Watching the documentary may feel like a huge weight over our society, adding yet another layer to injustice and gender inequality. But the stories in this film also give us hope, and that is why everyone must watch this.

We spoke with directors Trish and Geeta about the film and what viewers can do to be part of the solution legislatively as well as socially.


How did you both come to work together on ‘I AM EVIDENCE’? What was it about this issue that made you want to enlighten audiences about it?

Trish Adlesic: I learned about the rape kit backlog while working on “Law and Order SVU” over a period of 14 years. An episode of the show titled “Behave” featured a story about the backlog. When I heard the news of the backlog I was really concerned as to why this was happening and I wanted to be a part of telling the in-depth story and what could be done to fix the problem and to provide better care for survivors. To quote Nick Kristoff, “If you’ve got stacks of physical evidence, and you’re not doing anything with it, you must be making a decision that it isn’t a serious crime…”. It’s been my career dream to tell stories for and about women’s lives.

Geeta Gandbhir: Trish called me up to work on the project. Trish and I worked together before on ‘Gasland 2’ so it felt like a perfect match. The issue really illuminated how violence against women is mishandled in this country and it felt critical to get it out to the public. Everyone should be concerned as it affects all of us.

Having Mariska Hargitay leading the conversation in the film (and as a producer) is an extension of the work she is already doing with her foundation. What kind of advocacy did she bring to ‘I AM EVIDENCE’?

TA: Her advocacy helped open up doors in who we contacted about participation in the film across the country, because she is a recognizable name and there are many people that admire her character on ‘Law and Order: SVU’. When I contacted survivors and advocates across the country they were relieved to know a film was being made about this issue.

GG: Mariska is a tireless advocate. She is universally loved and respected, and she brought so much energy and passion to the film, that it helped make a much bigger impact than it might have otherwise.

For people watching who want to follow up on this issue in their own state or local area, what would you suggest they do?

TA: Go to www.endthebacklog.org and please take a look at the Accountability Project. You will find information on what is happening across the country. I urge people to get in touch with local legislators, advocates, and organizations that are working on getting legislation in all 50 states to count, track and test kits and to do something with the findings of those tested kits.

GG: The end the backlog website was created by Mariska’s Joyful Heart Foundation. There people can find up-to-date information on what’s happening in their area.

How does ‘I AM EVIDENCE’ provide a key piece of the puzzle in the #MeToo movement right now?

TA: The rape kit backlog is indicative of the way we have historically treated this crime, sending the message to survivors that they and their kits didn’t matter. With #MeToo and #TimesUp it’s an opportunity for many of us who have been working on women’s issues for a long time to come together on a united front and to advocate for all of the issues women are facing. Having watchdog movements in place will continue to keep the pressure on in creating a fair exchange for women.

GG: The #MeToo movement is an incredible holistic movement, empowering women from all walks of life to speak up on issues that oppress us. To have this platform already in place is a tremendous asset to the movement to end the backlog, and we are thrilled to have the intersectionality and solidarity at this critical moment.

It’s heartening to know there are police officers willing to bring justice and dignity for survivors by ensuring the rape kit backlog is addressed. But who does the final buck stop with, in terms of tackling the whole problem nationwide?

TA: It can vary state to state, but ultimately it’s up to the attorney general and the prosecutors to do the right thing on this issue.

GG: Sweeping legislation across all 50 states is needed to make it mandatory to test all backlogged and current rape kits. It’s part of the initiative that we are working on.

There is a lot of talk about “the female gaze” behind the camera in feature films, but clearly it is also important in documentaries, which shed light on issues primarily affecting women that have not been explored before. Can you speak more about the importance of women behind the camera?

TA: When Hollywood struggles to tell stories about women’s lives it’s important for women directors to encourage and prove why telling these stories are important. When women have 51 percent of the vote we make up a large audience.

GG: Diverse perspectives are incredibly important in filmmaking. Women behind the camera on films about women’s issues are needed to bring authenticity to the stories that are being told. Women share many lived experienced and that understanding can bring greater depth to the films created about us.

With so much conversation about bringing much-needed change to Hollywood, is there much movement in terms of how women are hired for projects?

TA: The percentages of women directors continues to remain low. However, we hope that the success of films like ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Lady Bird’ will send the message to studio executives that hiring women is bankable.

GG: There is some movement but not enough. The onus is on all of us to keep demanding equity and equality until it exists.

As both award-winning and nominated filmmakers, can you speak to the power and impact of documentary films to create social change?

TA: Receiving an Oscar Nomination for ‘GASLAND’ sounded the alarm nationally and internationally on the dangers of fracking. Award recognition can make a tremendous difference in the success and awareness raising of your film. Getting this kind of recognition helped get a ban on fracking in the state of New York. Everyone is looking to documentaries now for the in-depth story and for the answers.

GG: Documentaries have tremendous reach in that they can engage an audience emotionally as well as motivate audiences to demand change. The power of narrative has shown to be effective time and time again in the social justice arena. We have to keep making films that matter so people might be inspired to make change that matters.

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You can watch ‘I Am Evidence’ on HBO, and visit the website for more screening info.

 

 

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