Nancy Schwartzman is a filmmaker and activist, and the creator of The Line Campaign. The campaign, which is based on Schwartzman’s documentary The Line, promotes a healthy and nuanced conversation around consent – on a personal level and on a larger cultural level. Schwartzman has traveled the country screening her film on college campuses and facilitating those difficult but essential conversations.
One the hardest parts of the filmmaking process for The Line, Schwartzman told me, was convincing people, and particularly people who weren’t activists, that one woman’s story – Schwartzman’s own story – could change viewers’ minds about the issue of consent. But Schwartzman was right, and if you want to go see the film and the way it can get audiences talking, check if it’s coming to your city.
Schwartzman’s forthcoming film is called xoxosms, and is “a short film about love in the 21st century.” It will be released shortly.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Nancy Schwartzman.
Chloe Angyal: What led you to start The Line Campaign?
Nancy Schwartzman: I started The Line Campaign after I had been working on the film for about five years, total, and I was really committed to not just making the film but creating a dialog around it, and creating an advocacy campaign to go with the issues I raise in the film, because the film is so provocative and leaves people with a lot of questions and a lot of things to say. My goal with the campaign was to capture those conversations and foment them, to talk about consent and assault in a new way. It’s a more sex-positive approach to what we do want in addition to what we don’t, and figuring out language for how to articulate our boundaries.
CA: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?
NG: In my office I have poster of Wonder Woman, holding the jaws of a tyrannosaurus rex wide open. It’s this amazing image, with her cascading black hair, and he’s got these sharp fangs, and you can almost feel the jaws being pushed open and held open. I just love that image, and Wonder Woman and her bad-ass power. I related a lot as a girl to Ramona Quimby. She was always getting in trouble, and she was very creative, but also deeply sensitive.
My heroines in real life are the young women I meet on college campuses who are incredible, forward-thinking young activists, who are open-minded and really creative in the way they’re approaching their feminism. Two women who are really inspiring me today are the directors, Deborah Kampmeier (Virgin, Hound Dog, upcoming Carson McCullers Bio Pic) and Lisa Jackson (The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, Sex Crimes Unit). These ladies don’t fuck around! Both stick ferociously to their vision, and the worlds they choose to explore are not pretty. They look directly at some of the hardest things to witness – sexual assault, rape of children, mass rapes in the Congo, and create strong, compelling stories that demand we pay attention. When emerging female filmmakers want to tell the hard stories that center around sexuality and violence and gatekeepers say, “nobody will want to see that” or “that’s not important enough” these two boldly prove otherwise.
CA: What recently news story made you want to scream?
NG: There are so many! This morning I’d have to say the Dominique Strauss-Kahn story, for the obvious reason of the way our media handles issues of sexual assault, by de-crediting the victim, and actually turning the accused into the victim, which is happening on a huge scale with DSK, as he’s called. Not only is he the poor victim, but France is the victim, and it’s just disgusting, and the way that “seduction” and “coercion” are being interchanged with assault, and how “seduction” is being used to replace assault, is very disturbing. It’s very egregious in this case, but it’s a good example of how the media likes to blur that line around seduction and coercion. And France is a country that really prides itself on its human rights record, and its culture of highly evolved understanding of arts and culture, and they just really lag behind on this understanding of how we define sexual assault and how we define consent. And this is just an example of that, but on a big scale. And of course, yesterday’s acquittal of the two NYPD officers who raped a woman while on duty.
CA: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
NS: I think the greatest challenge facing feminism today, at least from my perspective in the work that I do, is challenging stereotypes in media. And I’m not just talking about newspapers, I’m talking about storylines in TV shows and your average movie at the box office. I think that in a lot of ways, our media has embraced the backlash storylines, and it’s constant. It’s a constant onslaught.
CA: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?
NS: Avocado, white wine spritzers, and my amazing partner, my husband, because he can build things. He would construct some shade, because if I had to choose between sunscreen and a white wine spritzer, I would probably take the white wine spritzer. He just kicks ass on all things survivalist; he can start a fire quicker than I am, and he’s way more of an optimist than I am.