Rape Culture in Film


“Indoctrination in the Dark” is a series of twelve paintings that focus on the movie plots that I, and many of the men who run our government, grew up on; plot lines that present the subjugation of women as entertainment. These stories present objectionable male/female power dynamics, sexual assault, and even rape as either comedy or the path to true love and happiness. With these paintings I try to diffuse the hold these movies have on our collective psyche.
Daena Title, 2021

Revenge of the Nerds - Daena Title
Revenge of the Nerds was so popular they made several more Nerds movies. In this scene our lead girl is raped by a guy pretending to be her boyfriend while disguised in a Darth Vader costume and mask. When the girl discovers his treachery, the movie portrays her as delighted with the outcome and praises her rapist. I made the painting in the form of a multiple-choice test, signifying that these movies teach lessons, but not ones we should approve of. I also used glitter and sequins and spangles, crafts materials that little girls play with, because I wanted the painting to feel simultaneously full of hyper twinkly innocence and rape-y.
Goldfinger - Daena Title
The little boys who grew up wanting to be James Bond, they now run your government. And these Bond movies did them and you a grave disservice. A common theme is that Bond “gets” all the girls, even if his means of doing so are highly questionable. In this scene we learn that if a man persists and foists himself on a protesting woman, she will learn that she was wrong to protest. That he knows better about what she really wants, a scary and all too common lesson in these movies for both men and women. In my painting, I juxtapose these two moments, the objecting and the relenting. I add the banner text “SHE SAYS NO, BUT YOU KNOW BETTER” to challenge this lesson that what a woman wants most is a man to ignore her words.
Rocky - Daena Title
Rocky, a huge hit — there were 9 Rocky movies, and the franchise is continuing today. In this Oscar winning film, romance is presented to us as a woman saying “no”, who is wrong to say “no”. The movie plot repackages the male lead overpowering this woman as the best thing that could have ever happened to her. Once again, her objections are foolish, and she is portrayed as grateful that he wasn’t dissuaded by her protests. In my painting, I use a traditional old fashioned color palette to underscore that these memes of the forced and then appreciated kiss are very Old School. And the little collaged hearts around the lovers’ kiss are meant to underscore that this is a cartoon version of what we were taught a woman wants. A lesson that isn’t healthy for an individual or a society.
Meatballs - Daena Title
Bill Murray movies defined comedy in the early 80’s, but this scene from Meatballs is assault. With no consequences. In fact, it’s rewarded. At the end of this movie, these two characters are a couple. Movies, in the 80’s, defined the culture. These were the “influencers”. The behaviors we saw in these movies taught us how men and women were supposed to interact: what was acceptable; whose will was important and who could be dismissed. Most often, that was the woman. Here, the woman’s protests are disregarded, overridden, and ignored. In my paint ing of the scene, I juxtapose the innocent palette of rainbows from girlhood doodling with the harsher reality of the place women will occupy in adult society.
PEPElePEW - Daena Title
These cartoons, on TV throughout my childhood, present a masher’s assaults on a female cat for laughs. I contend that these stories have an impact. If you were raised on this kind of “entertainment” why wouldn’t you think it was permissible to muscle through a woman’s discomfort to get what you want.
Animal House - Daena Title
Animal House, which Kavanaugh mentions in his Judicial hearings testimony, was the highest grossing comedy of its time. The Peeping Tom scene was played for laughs. In this painting I try to humanize that scene and present the behavior the way I see it — not as “hah, hah, boys will be boys” but as the creepy, invasive, disrespectful behavior it is.
Gone With The Wind - Daena Title
Gone with the Wind was on everyone’s best picture list for decades and won 10 of 13 Academy Awards nominations. But this highly influential, beloved movie includes the epitome of rape as romance. In this scene, our heroine Scarlet pushes away her drunken husband, but he overpowers her and forcibly carries her up the stairs to their bedroom. ”This is one night you’re not locking me out”, he says. The next morning finds Scarlet transformed by the night’s adventures, no longer protesting or angry, she giddily sings to herself as she awaits her husband’s return to the bedroom. Generations of men ingested these stories and their explicit messaging. In this painting, I used red and green because I wanted to subliminally highlight the concept of stop and go, because what is portrayed is a woman saying Stop, but the man, as is often depicted in these movie plots, reads that as Go – be more persistent, use force, make her. As this movie tells you, it’s what she really wants.
Snow White - Daena Title
Snow White, a classic fairy tale passed down through the generations, exemplifies a plot premise that dictates gender roles. Prince Charming, without her permission, must kiss Snow White to save her. If we accept the plot’s mechanisms, we have to accept the righteousness of this behavioral outcome. The power dynamic of men “saving” helpless women by kissing them without their consent is presented to young children as laudable, healthy, necessary and praiseworthy. Stories are how romance is defined by a society. They need to be examined and unpacked, not just accepted on their own terms.
The Notebook - Daena Title
Many of these movie plots taught men that whatever it took — coercion, trickery — were all acceptable for men to achieve their agendas. In The Notebook, our romantic lead threatens suicide to get our heroine to date him. I tried to make my painting resemble an edited scrapbook of that event, where the heroine’s common sense shifts from a reasonable assessment to romantic drivel. Because a guy saying he’ll kill himself if you won’t go out with him is a RED FLAG. Every instinct should tell you to run from this guy; life with him will be a continuous manipulative misery. But the movie paints it differently — any conniving, toxic behavior is embraced if it leads the way to what a man believes is his true love.
Say Anything - Daena Title
Here I’ve re-examined the classic boom box scene of Say Anything questioning whether it’s romance, or stalking. The movie tells us that the lead male’s behavior is laudable. The female lead has broken up with him but he is presented as justified and right to ignore her. These movie plot lines repeatedly teach that the man knows best. The stories reward these RED FLAG behaviors with the heroine’s love. I’ve used these hyper bright colors in the painting to try to indicate that these stories, though seductive, are fake.
It Happened One Night - Daena Title
It Happened One Night is an Oscar winning classic that my mother showed me because it was “so romantic”. I was shocked that she encouraged me to fall in love with a man who advocated regularly punching his wife to keep her in line whether she “deserved it” or not. I wanted this painting to look like a Valentine gone wrong. That no amount of glitter, hearts or sherberty, sweet colors should hide the harshness of the message these stories spin as attractive and reasonable.
16 Candles - Daena Title
16 Candles was one of the great John Hughes films that defined a generation. Here are some of the movie’s plot lines that the 80’s audience found unobjectionable: The hero sets up his blackout drunk girlfriend to be raped by an underclassman and presents it as amusing; the girl who is raped praises her rapist and tells us she enjoyed it; there is no negative judgment of this “hero” for his actions and instead he ends up, without changing any of his behaviors, winning the heart of the movie’s young heroine.

Daena Title is an American expressionist figurative painter best known for her feminist work. View more of Daena’s work HERE.