In the opening scene of Cut-Out Girls, a knowing look is shared between the film’s antagonists, Mike (Joel Rosenblatt) and Kevin (Cody Mountain), as Kevin rubs sunscreen onto his girlfriend’s back. This look speaks volumes. It is the silent pact of patriarchy that men share; the pact that makes ‘good guys’ do bad things; the pact that bonds men together at the expense of women.

The new film Cut-Out Girls follows the lives of a group of privileged twenty-somethings in Cape Town. Their stories are linked by a series of atrocious acts committed by these two young men. Marie Claire watched this timely film on Wednesday, and spoke to the team behind it.

Nicola Hanekom is the writer and director of Cut-Out Girls, her debut feature. She is an award-winning South African theatre-maker and she originally created Cut-Out-Girls as a play. ‘When we did the play,’ she says, ‘people would spontaneously share their stories [of sexual assault].’ She described an outpouring of #MeToo and #whyIdidntreport stories in response to this work, and this experience fueled her desire to adapt the script into a screenplay.

Why do men rape?

South Africa has one of the highest occurrences of rape in the world. Factors like drug abuse and poverty alone are not enough to explain our shockingly high rape statistics and our overall culture of violence. In making this film, Nicola sets out to tell the story of the ripple-effects of rape, and to get to the heart of the question: why do men rape?

She studied patterns of behaviour dominant among men who rape, particularly the way in which people are more aggressive in groups than they would be individually. She also spent hours in rehearsal with the cast prior to filming, ensuring the actors felt safe and comfortable before she called action. The importance of this type of storytelling, by and about women, lies in its potential to reimagine and rework the systems that fail so many of us. ‘A male filmmaker would have told a very different story,’ says Grant Swanby, who produced and acts in the film. It’s true – we need more storytelling that cares about the perspectives, experiences and lives of female characters.

What makes someone evil? Their deeds? 

In 1963, political philosopher Hannah Arendt travelled to Jerusalem to report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the chief architects of the Holocaust. Her experience at the trial prompted her to write an article about what she called the ‘banality of evil’, in which she asks the question: can a person do evil without being evil?

Cut-Out Girls probes similar territory. The film’s two antagonists, Kevin and Mike, operate as a team to commit a series of ‘date rapes’. Kevin is a cool and casual sociopath, showing no empathy and remorse for his actions, while Mike is ‘just another guy’ – not outwardly evil, just ‘going along with it’.

No-one is immune to rape culture

Hannah’s time spent covering the Eichmann trial led her to write that, in a culture of hatred and evil, even an ordinary ‘banal’ man – ie, your fave – can do the worst things imaginable. Bill Cosby, who played TV’s most lovable dad, Cliff Huxtable, on The Cosby Show, was recently sentenced to three to 10 years in prison for the rape of Andrea Constand. The flood of accusations against Bill by Andrea and scores of other women sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry and the world. TV’s most lovable dad was now a convicted sex offender.

You should know going into this film that there are scenes that are difficult and traumatic to watch. Nicola explained that her desire was to portray these scenes sensitively, focusing on the experience of the victim as a tool for empathy, not graphic sensationalism.

At a screening of the film, actress Chloe Papademetriou described how the film’s title refers to the little figures of girls you used to cut out of paper when you were a kid. It’s a metaphor for how this movie is a multi-narrative story in which the women are linked by their difficult, shared experiences at the hands of violent men. ‘We are united in our strength,’ said Chloe.

Cut-Out Girls is extremely timely and relevant

If there’s anything the Christine Blasey Ford-Brett Kavanaugh ordeal has taught us, it’s that the patriarchy is alive and well. It echoes through the halls of high schools and universities, proclaims itself in the media and whispers through courtrooms.

In a moving testimony delivered to the US Senate, Dr Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her some 36 years ago at a high-school party. And yet, last week, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as US Supreme Court Justice, a lifetime appointment which could change decades of legal rulings.

To young men, Dr Ford’s testimony was a message that teenaged drunken violence could follow them all their lives. And to victims, it was an example of a woman bravely speaking up, no matter how powerful the accused; no matter how long ago the attack. Cut-Out Girls is a timely reminder of the insidiousness of rape culture, and how youthful actions can have consequences that are life-long and devastating.

The film is produced by Act Cape Town Productions in association with Haas en Kaas and SAE Institute. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Rape Crisis. For more information on future screenings see Cutoutgirls.co.za.