“This film includes extremely graphic sexual scenes, including references to pornography. Some of these scenes have the potential for being triggers for those with a history of sexual abuse or trauma. If at any point you feel uncomfortable to this extent, please do not hesitate to excuse yourself from the theater.”
What followed was a brutal combination of clips, stories, interviews and images portraying the sexualization of America’s youth. Think child pageants, Abercrombie and Fitch models, seven-year-olds wearing bikinis. Porn. Sexual assault. The list goes on. It’s shocking and it’s raw — and it begs for change. America the Beautiful 3 is Darryl Roberts’s third installment of documentaries focusing on our country’s distorted image of beauty. The first America the Beautiful film focused on America’s unhealthy beauty image, the next took a look at Body Mass Index as a proxy for health and the third attacks the horrendous sexualization of young women. Last Thursday, the film was screened by The Hearth, a mental wellness center in South Carolina for people struggling with eating disorders. The Hearth backed the screening for two reasons, said John Kessler, Executive Director. “Our two functions are to one, help children/adolescents/people recover from this terrible disease called eating disorder. And the second is advocacy. We strive to see our society change in order to promote better mental health among all the people.” Roberts is traveling across the country promoting his film and instigating dialogue amongst teens, college students and professionals alike. The screening in Sottile Theatre was the third of 30.
In this film, Roberts highlighted a child beauty pageant and its effects on its participants, as well as the porn industry and how women are treated behind the scenes. Roberts also interviewed an aspiring Playboy model and her mother. These were the three main featured accounts, but intertwined were blurbs from CEO’s of porn companies, rape victims, parents of girls with eating disorders. So many problems were brought to light, and that’s what made the film was so powerful. The sexualization of young girls is everywhere.
Roberts said in a Q&A with the audience after the screening,“One of the things that affected me a little bit more in this film was the child beauty pageants.” He continued, “What I didn’t know was that the kids had no desire to do that. They were crying on stage, manipulated and abused into waddling around in front of the judges.”
John Kessler, Executive Director of The Hearth, agrees. “Childhood beauty pageants can be deleterious to focusing on weight, ages, looking beautiful. That can become their passion other than being a child, having fun and growing up normally.” Roberts was convinced that this film was going to complete the trilogy, but is now having second thoughts. “There’s a lot of people with a lot of pain. The response that I am getting to this film in particular is leading me to believe that there’s still a lot of work to do.” Roberts uses that pain as a driving force to find other issues that he needs to focus on. After wrapping up the promotional period of his films, Roberts finds that he needs to take 2-3 months to de-stress and “let it all leave him” before starting the next researching process.
Roberts said, “Part 3 was without a doubt the hardest to make.” He continued, “In parts 1 and 2 I was completely detached from the film; I was a social observer. But with this one, I was personally pulled into it.” During the production of America the Beautiful 3, Roberts was told that one of his interns was sexually assaulted by one of the production workers. That brought a different level of pain into this film. This time, it was tangible. Dealing with this disappointment made the problem more real, Roberts said. He continued, “Even now, there are so many cases of sexual assault. It’s almost acceptable in our culture to assault women.” Roberts talked about “It’s On Us,” a campaign launched by President Obama to help end sexual assault on college campuses. Roberts believes that this is where we need to start. “It’s on us to stand up for women being abused. We need to start now, fighting against any type of abuse towards women.”
After the show, there was a panel discussion put on by The Hearth. Director/Producer Darryl Roberts was joined by The Hearth’s Medical Director, Dr. Timothy Brewerton, as well as its Clinical Director, Amy Gerberry. They encouraged discussion, questions and responses to the documentary. Many audience members came to the microphone if not to solely thank Roberts for bringing his film to their awareness.
One student, who preferred to remain unnamed, went up to the microphone to thank Roberts for addressing something that many people are scared to address. Her question for him was whether he thought it was going to stop. “Down the line, is my daughter, or her daughter, going to have to deal with it?” Roberts’s response? Change comes from us. We have to “do our part to make each sect of the population healthy.”
Roberts is optimistic about the future. He says he hopes that there will be a time when America will stop sexualizing its youth. When three-year olds won’t be forced onto stage in heavy makeup, fake teeth and a tutu. When women won’t have to live in fear of being sexually assaulted. It’s a dark subject, and many people are sensitive to it, which is a large reason why the film is so shocking. But Roberts is going to keep doing what he is doing, which is waking America up and addressing the issues that need to be addressed. Roberts said,“For me, the best part of my job is what I was doing the other night [the night of the screening]. I enjoy sparking people to think, to face these things, to be their personal best. I want to start the process of healing in this society by meeting with people and interacting. That’s fulfilling to me.”