Director: David Mahmoudieh
Writer: Diane Guzman, Ruth Arnold, Baiinga Bangura, Santiago Chavez, Nelcit Lopez
Cast: Corey Feldman, Scott Deckert, Bella Popa, Breana Raquel, Aliyah Moulden, Santiago Chavez, Nelcit Lopez
Running time: 14mins
Harvey Weinstein has been brought to justice after a New York jury found him guilty of two of the five charges he faced, an outcome that some describe as a breakthrough for sexual assault victims in the professional environment. It is thought the verdict – which could see the fallen Hollywood Kingpin spend between five and 25 years behind bars – is expected to empower women to speak up about assault in the future. Parallel aims to serve a similar purpose, albeit for the less talked about world of child sexual harassment.
The film was written by foster youth in LA, who took part in a 10-week screenwriting programme with Kids in the Spotlight (KITS), a non-profit organisation that allows foster youth across the United States to leverage film as a platform to tell their stories. Participants were paired with film professionals to produce their work, and Parallel is the result.
“48% of middle school and high school students say they have been sexually harassed at least once,” reads the screen at the end of the 13-minute film, which brilliantly explores a plethora of issues that surround instances of harassment. It is no coincidence that Corey Feldman would have felt confident in putting his own weight behind this – making an appearance as Principal Davies here, the former Lost Boys and Goonies star is a survivor of childhood abuse himself. Feldman is set to release his own film, My Truth: The Rape of Two Coreys later in March, and has stated that he hopes it can help spark a #MeToo-type movement to bring historical childhood sexual abuse to light in Hollywood and beyond – something Parallel will undoubtedly play a role in too.
Set in a high school, the film follows “parallel” narratives of two students being taken advantage of by teachers. The difference is that one tells the story of a male teacher (Mr. Walker) and a female student (Lyric), while the genders are flipped in the second (Mrs. Keller & Thomas).
Some might say the gender is irrelevant; cue Parallel. Both narratives take place over a chilling grooming process, as the tutor makes a series of suggestive and rather creepy advances on a student. The core of the film, however, reveals itself in the aftermath of the harassment.
As both students process their experiences (sitting alone and visibly upset), their best friends approach them and notice something is wrong. Thomas sits in a lonely hallway and tells his friend about his feelings of confusion, of disgust, of having to prove to himself that he wanted it to stop, that he tried to stop it. In his friend, he finds no sympathy. He finds an excitable teenage boy who attempts to vicariously live out a fantasy through him.
Lyric’s range of emotions is only revealed through her tears and speechlessness. Approached by her best friend in the locker room, she simply has to say the name Mr. Walker for her friend to understand the situation. She finds sympathy, and empathy when her friend reveals that Mr. Walker had made a similar advance on her. She even finds justice, when Mr. Walker is taken away in handcuffs.
A scene follows that KITS uses to speak directly to the children of America. “Speak out” is the theme, be it through talking to friends, authority figures or on social media. KITS also uses the scene to put out the #Kids2 hash-tag, an iteration of #MeToo. The scene is an expression of support that contemporary American society has to offer for victims of harassment; it is a call to action, and an assurance that justice is possible.
Thomas remains silent throughout the scene, until the conclusion of the movie. His story represents more than half of the students who do not report sexual harassment in the United States. He also represents all the boys who do not find the emotional space in society or among their peers to talk about their feelings.
The scene is compelling, as is Thomas’ silence. From an average viewer’s perspective, it’s an eye opener about those victims who can’t find their voice. One wonders, however, if the scene could have done just a bit more for a young male victim watching at home. Perhaps it would benefit from a more overt indication that people of all genders and ages are encouraged to come forward, via some kind of action from Thomas himself.
The film aims to push young people to speak out, and Thomas’ silence, while poignant, might set a poor example for victims at home. An inter-title at the end of the film also fails to address victims like Thomas, merely mentioning that cases go unreported without reassuring victims that they have a voice irrespective of their background.
On the whole, however, thought provoking is the least that can be said of Parallel, as it puts into images the reality that many hold hidden in their hearts and minds.
For a film that was written and produced by LA foster youth after just 10 weeks of training and one day of shooting, Parallel is a brilliant illustration of how film can become a tool of society’s most neglected and violated members, as they seek to bring their abusers to justice, and empower others to do the same. The film makes a crucial statement and a call to action, while the narrative is compelling, the editing smooth, and the acting effective. Parallel loses points for not taking the extra step to draw out an already alienated segment of sexual harassment victims, but makes up for it through its work to reassure an already persecuted segment.