One might recalls the disturbing news in 2012 of Ohio high school football players who allegedly raped a 16 year old girl at a party, and the rush to blame the victim in a city where high school football and its players are prized. But the documentary Roll Red Roll gives a much more detailed and far more disturbing picture of a culture of toxic masculinity in the city of Stubensville, Ohio where many students, parents, school administrators and coaches were complicit in fostering such a hostile climate for young women.
Through interviews, footage of the football players being questioned by police, and the boys’ numerous text exchanges (not for the faint of heart) that were retrieved and publicized by a Columbus, Ohio crime blogger angered by what she discovered, director Nancy Schwartzman delivers a powerful indictment of rape culture and social media posturing. These factors turned “good kids” — jocks who were put on pedestals by a football-obsessed community —into misogynists with little empathy or basic decency. To see and hear many (but not all) of these boys ridiculing and joking about raping a “dead” (drunk) girl (one laughingly references “O.J.’s dead wife”) and posting pictures to social media pulls back the curtain on what many at first excused as “boys will be boys” behavior. The film also shows a backlash, as many women and some men came forward and held public rallies in support of the victim and to denounce the culture that looked the other way at sexual abuse. “Roll Red Roll” (the title refers to the name of the football team) follows the case through the trial of two of the boys and subsequent revelations that this wasn’t an isolated incident.
The Stubensville community has a lot to answer for, but Roll Red Roll, without being didactic, implicates by extension much of American culture in the sex shaming of women and the excusing of men, particularly boys and men of stature, whether it is a star athlete, a Supreme Court Justice or the president of the United States.