Last week, I got an e-mail with a real honker of a subject line: "Most Controversial Film — More Dangerous than Wikileaks?" It claimed that a new film, Victim, contains a rape scene so realistic that "gay-rights activists and anti-rape groups tried to get it banned." The e-mail quoted John Edgarson, a spokesperson for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Forum of America: "When the subject of transgender-ism is taken as a means of torture, it makes us less than human and serves to demonize a whole set of innocent people in the minds of the public."
The e-mail stressed that the rape scenes were simulated — not real rape footage! — and then closed with instructions on how to order the film from On Demand.
Was this some sort of guerilla-marketing campaign targeting rape fans through reverse psychology? As it turns out, it was worse.
I clicked the link to the trailer. The film appears to be about a man who rapes a woman and is then given torturous gender-reassignment surgery by a Human Centipede–style mad scientist.
Rather than outraged admonitions from activists, the commenters complained about getting spammed. "WHERE IS MY EXTREME RAPE SCENE? GODDAM SPAM LYING TO ME AGAIN," wrote one YouTuber.
The trailer has been viewed 1000 times.
The clip is hosted on the YouTube page of the Grandview Theater in Columbus, Ohio. "I'm not sure who wrote the e-mail some people have received, but it sure wasn't about the movie we showed," Grandview president David Nedrow wrote below the video, in response to comments. "There are two rape scenes, but they are — if one can say this — mild."
So, no promised extreme rape. How about an LGBT community up in arms?
Alas, that proved nonexistent.
The Grandview's YouTube page seems to be the only locus of Victim discussion online. A Google search didn't yield scores of gay activists denouncing it — it yielded nothing at all. I couldn't find any record of "John Edgarson" or his organization, either. Gunner Scott, the director of the real-life Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, has never heard of such a person or group, nor had his contact at GLAAD.
So who invented Edgarson, put words in his mouth, and sent the e-mail? It originated, Nedrow pointed out to me, in India ("Do people really not know how to look at e-mail headers?" he groused.) He didn't send it. The film is distributed by IFC, but 42 West, IFC's marketing arm, denies sending the e-mail, too.
Unlike Edgarson, Victim director Matt Eskandari does exist, but when I call him at home in Los Angeles, he denies any involvement. "I've heard about this," he says. "I don't know what that is." I ask him how it feels to have someone market his film by generating fake controversy that targets rape fans. "It is what it is," he replies.
"Transgender people face an enormous amount of violence," Scott says, citing that an average of one transgendered person is murdered every month in a hate crime. "It appears this film didn't get much attention when it came out in November, and to use a community that's already dealing with discrimination and violence is pathetic."
The original version of this article mistakenly referred to Gunner Scott's organization as the Massachusetts Transgender Association, rather than the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.