"Use your voice, even if it's shaky": M.F.A gets real about rape culture and victim blaming

Updated: Jan 19, 2018

M.F.A tells the story of an art student who pursues her own justice after she is violently sexually assaulted, subsequently fuelling the inspiration for her college thesis project. M.F.A gets real about issues of rape and bravely tells the story of a girl who must become her own champion after she is failed by protective services.

M.F.A is raw, real and heart-breaking. It addresses the problems surrounding rape that society often is too polite to address. The team behind M.F.A is on a mission to raise awareness about sexual assault and rape and to address the systemic issues that lead to victim blaming and faulty protective services.

We had the chance to speak with the producer of M.F.A, Mariah Owen. Mariah is an award-winning producer, writer, director and actor living in Toronto. She is also the CEO and founder of GTE Productions, a production company involved in creating M.F.A.

Photo by: Denise Grant

Winslow: Tell us how you became involved with M.F.A.

Mariah: This is hands down one of my favourite stories to tell. I received an email in April of 2015 from an unknown email address basically saying, “Hi, my name is Leah and I’m a female filmmaker… if you’re looking for a film – choose mine.” This “Leah McKendrick” girl had seen my previous work online and found me. I immediately thought it was a scam, LOL!

I ended up emailing her back, read the script and met with Leah. Now, almost two years later, our movie has premiered at SXSW, completed its run in theatres and is available all over the world. Leah is now one of my best friends and favourite humans on the planet. All because of the power of an email. Crazy!

Winslow: When Noelle seeks help from professionals in protective services, she experiences victim blaming and push-back from authority figures. With the increased media attention around rape and college/university campuses becoming more sensitive to sexual assault, how prevalent do you think victim blaming is on campuses today?

Mariah: Unfortunately – it's insanely prevalent. To be completely honest, I too, have been guilty of it. When you assume that someone is just “like that” or that they have slept around, it somehow discredits their feelings, (even though it absolutely does not). I think the way we approach the issue needs to be turned around. We need to stop accusing victims of lying or misconstruing details and focus on how we raise teens to respect other people’s bodies.

Winslow: The character of Noelle takes on the role of a violent vigilante after a fellow student rapes her. What was the reason for developing the victim’s character into a serial killer, and how does this contribute to the movie’s overall message?

Mariah: I think it’s really important to note that she is a violent vigilante after a very violent crime happens to her. I think the exact reason she is labelled a threatening serial killer, versus a hero, is the exact reason we needed to make this movie. How we view men and women in our society is just so messed up. She is a victim and yet she finds this part of herself that wants to protect other women from this abuse. The cops aren’t doing anything, and the judicial system isn’t doing anything to protect victims… so she takes things into her own hands. I definitely do not condone violence (this a movie – HELLO!) however, I think it is incredibly thought-provoking and empowering.

Winslow: What message does the team behind MFA hope to send to audiences?

Mariah: We hope to send a message that victims aren’t alone. We see you, we hear you and we support you. We definitely don’t encourage becoming a serial killer, however, we believe you when you're telling your story. Use your voice, even if it’s shaky.

Winslow: Many people are disturbed when learning about incidences of rape and the topic of sexual violence can be especially sensitive for students and young adults. What was it like for the actors and crew behind the scenes, creating these realistic scenes of sexual assault?

Mariah: Although I did act in the film, my scenes were relatively simple. As a producer, the days on-set when we were filming were heavy and heartbreaking. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know for our key team, at the end of the day, we knew we had to film these scenes to make the film as realistic as possible and to highlight the horrors that so many victims face.

Winslow: What has been the overall feedback surrounding MFA and the awareness movement it has created?

Mariah: Honestly, the feedback has been insanely overwhelming. We have a lot of people saying “thank you” for making this film and for giving a voice to victims. I think the most important feedback is that we are raising a conversation about a topic people don’t want to talk about. I am incredibly proud that this film resonates with so many people including individuals from all walks of life: men and women, young and old... because sexual assault takes no mercy and knows no bounds.

Winslow: What would you say to young adults or university students who are victims of sexual assault themselves or have someone close to them who is a victim?

Mariah: You are not alone. You are stronger than your heartbreak. And, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, you can move forward. It is going to take a lot of work and crap days, but there are people in the world who want to help you and believe you. Please don’t bottle your pain, you don’t have to tell the world but please tell someone whom you trust and trust in yourself to help find better days.

M.F.A has just finished its run in theatres and is available on Amazon, Google Play and iTunes. Watch the trailer below.

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