Netflix’s new documentary, Audrie and Daisy, is a harrowing and moving film that deals with two high school girls in two different towns, Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, who were both sexually assaulted and subsequently bullied on social media. In their film, Director Bonni Cohen and husband Jon Shenk consider the endemic dangers of social media for both victims and perpetrators to give us a sobering look at the ways today’s teenagers use platforms like Facebook and Snapchat as an easy means to spread gossip and betray one another with little regard for the life-altering consequences.
Audrie and Daisy is an essential film that documents devastating stories about rape culture in high schools across the country, reminding us that these incidents are not uncommon, but widespread. We learn through survivor Coleman about the network of support being built from city to city to combat this escalating online scourge.
I recently caught up with Bonni Shenk, Daisy Coleman and Delaney Henderson to talk about making the documentary, and the immense sensitivity required in telling these stories.
Awards Daily: How did you find out about Daisy’s story?
Bonni: Jon and I are married, we have two teenagers of our own, and much like Tori [Amos, who wrote a song for the film], this is very much on our minds right now in terms of where teenagers are at, and trying to get into their head space and trying to understand this Wild West of social media that is so impactful for them, and they’re so influenced by it, and have so much at stake online it seems. That was of a lot interest to us. That’s pretty hard to make a film about that. We’d had conversations with some friends of ours about Futures Without Violence, an organization that does a lot of work in the domestic violence and violence against women space. We were talking about how there just seemed to be this new wave of high school sexual assault. We didn’t know if there was more of it going on, or if more of it was being broadcast online, but we thought we have to figure out how to talk about it in our country, and how to start a really robust conversation.
We started to look into places around the country where sexual assault and social media bullying had come together in high school. The truth is there are a handful of cases where girls have gone public with their names and two of them are sitting right here with me. Often for activist reasons, where their cases have been added, they’ve taken charge of their own story and gone forward with their stories publicly.
We started to do some research and read a lot about Daisy. There was a huge spread in the Kansas City Star that was a double feature where we learned a lot about the Scarlett Letter nature of her story in Maryville, and we couldn’t believe it. We couldn’t believe the level to which this family had been tortured and expelled from this town as a result of Daisy’s case, and it was mind-blowing to us. We reached out to the family, and we very quickly wanted to talk to them to see if they wanted to be involved in this film.
AD: What was the time line for this?
Bonni: We started two years ago. It’s more than that now, but the total time for the production was two years. It took a lot of time to gain the trust of both families, the Potts and the Colemans, and getting them comfortable with this new project. They’d both been through media firestorms, and we wanted to make sure they understood that we weren’t just another media outlet. We really spent a lot of time developing relationships.
AD: What was that like for the girls, having to sit down to put it down on film?
Daisy Coleman: As Bonni said, she made it quite evident that they weren’t leaving and just spending five minutes with me. The filming process was very hard for me because I didn’t want to rehash everything that I had already been through with this media whirlwind. It was very important though for me to go full force with this film.
AD: Bonni, what’s happening with the conversation? Do you feel there’s more talk about it given the talk of college campus rape and high school sexual assault?
Bonni: I really think so. Audrie and Daisy takes place in schools and homes when parents are often home. If we can have this conversation earlier, we can hopefully prevent what’s happening on college campuses in the first place. Our experience of having made this film, and having talked to our friends who are parents, there has been utter paralysis in terms of conversation around these issues. I feel like we’re breaking the logjam, and there’s a lot of interest in figuring this out, getting ahead of it, and trying to educate our boys and girls earlier.
AD: Daisy, you mention in the documentary that there’s so much silence for fear of backlash, be it social media, parental backlash, and even from law enforcement. What needs to be done to help break that silence?
Daisy: As a survivor and victim, there’s not much you can do to influence others besides speaking out yourself, which is what I found. With that being said, I think it’s the realization that silence is no different than taking the side of the oppressor because you aren’t standing for what’s right, you’re just standing aside.
After the documentary, I heard from so many people coming out, telling us their story, and hearing that is just really powerful, because by speaking out you’re helping others to speak up for themselves.
Delaney: Even on social media, there’s a lot of positive feedback. That’s really new, the complete opposite of what we experienced in the past. A lot of people who don’t know us, stood up for us. That could be a great ripple effect, standing up for everyone out there who’s been victimized by crime, that would be the most powerful thing out there.
BC: That’s a tipping point. That reminded me of the MADD movement. We used to get into cars with people who were drunk driving, and there came a point when we thought, “What are we doing? This is crazy. We have to stop this from happening.” I feel maybe we’re hitting that tipping point right now, we’re seeing it on Twitter, lighting up with conversations about Audrie and Daisy. Hopefully, very quickly, we’ll see an intolerance for this behavior.
AD: What can schools do to raise awareness?
BC: For the first time ever, Netflix has agreed to help us to do a community screening campaign alongside the release of the film. I was working with a company out of New York called Film Sprout, and they’re setting up community screenings all over the country. In parallel with that, we’re working with Futures Without Violence to get curricular and discussion guides that can go along with the film. If a teacher shows it, they can assign the film as homework, or they can show it at the school, and there are discussion guide elements for them to delve into some of these issues.
If the school doesn’t want to do it, then the parents can do it at home. There are many ways to get out this beautiful content which is what’s so great about Netflix, and the conversation can begin either at home or in the classroom.
AD: Daisy, tell us about the movement you’re starting.
DC: After being a part of PAVE and meeting all these different girls that you see in the film. We started and found this organization called Safe BAE, Bae stands for Before Anything Else. What we do is we travel to high schools and colleges and we educate people on victim empowerment. There’s a lot of people we have who are getting on board with this.
AD: I’ve just sat down with Tori to talk about her song Flicker, and there’s a lyric about “Heroines, they are not born, they are made,” What was that like for you when you heard that?
DC: It was very powerful. It really sounded like a lot of her earlier work. It was such a powerful song. I’m grateful that she’s on board for the film, and she’s so powerful to write a song for the film, and I think it’s going to do it a lot of justice for the film.
AD: When did you see the film for the first time?
Delaney : The first time I saw the film was at Sundance. I had all the girls from Safe BAE with me, and the first time I watched it was really hard re-hashing my whole entire life story. Not only that, but watching Audrie’s story was hard. It was empowering to see us towards the end as victims coming together, and turning into survivors as one was great.
Audrie and Daisy is streaming on Netflix