Recently a very powerful and important feature documentary, Netizens has come to my attention. Directed by Cynthia Lowen, it is about revenge porn. Lowen is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and writer. This timely 96-minute documentary features prominent Brooklyn attorney Carrie Goldberg and author of Nobody’s Victim; Anita Sarkeesian, founder of Feminist Frequency and target of the ‘Gamergate’ attacks; and Tina Reine, a businesswoman whose career is destroyed by reputation-harming websites. With Soraya Chemaly, Danielle Citron, Mary Anne Franks and Jamia Wilson.
The film premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and its international premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs, and opening soon in selected theaters around the U. S. beginning September 23rd, 2019.
Cynthia is also the producer and writer of BULLY, a feature documentary film following five kids and families through “a year in the life” of America’s bullying crisis, which she developed in partnership with Emmy- and Sundance-award winning director Lee Hirsch. Filmed over the course of the 2009/2010 school year, BULLY opens a window onto the pained and often endangered lives of bullied kids, revealing a problem that transcends geographic, racial, ethnic and economic borders.
Lauded by reviewers, BULLY was awarded a prestigious Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award for excellence in journalism, as well as the 2013 Stanley Kramer Award from the Producers Guild of America, the True Life Fund Award, the Cinema Eye Audience Award, the Emery Award, the Bergen Film Festival Audience Award, and more. Drawing on BULLY’s success, the filmmakers created The BULLY Project Social Action Campaign, a collaborative effort in partnership with multiple organizations, foundations, brands and corporate sponsors, sharing a commitment to ending bullying and transforming society.
The film and campaign have garnered support from such prominent voices as Anderson Cooper, Ellen DeGeneres, Kelly Ripa, Meryl Streep, Katie Couric, Justin Bieber, and many others. Featured at several summits on education and school climate, in April of 2012 BULLY was screened at the White House. The impact of this documentary and the associated social action campaign was recently explored in Anderson Cooper’s 1-hour special, The BULLY Effect, premiering on CNN.
In addition, Cynthia is an award-winning poet and winner of the 2012 National Poetry Series for her collection The Cloud That Contained the Lightning , published by University of Georgia Press. Using the character of J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the “father of the atomic bomb,” as a jumping-off point, the collection explores the enduring legacy of nuclear weapons. Of these poems, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes writes, “No biographer in 600 pages has come closer to understanding him [Oppenheimer]–and the bomb–than does Cynthia Lowen in these subtle, resonant poems.” Cynthia is the recipient of the Hedgebrook Women Authoring Change Fellowship sponsored by William Morris Entertainment, the Discovery Prize, residencies to the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, among other honors.
Cynthia Lowen generously agreed to an interview with Chicago Splash Magazine as follows:
- I have been aware of children being bullied on the internet but not at all aware of the impact of internet bad behavior impacting women as the movie describes. How did this topic come to your attention?
In the fall of 2014, there were several coordinated cyber-attacks targeting women in the video game industry which came to be known as “Gamergate.” These attacks were so violent that many women who were targeted had to leave their homes and there was little recourse from law enforcement or tech companies. As a filmmaker, it seemed to me like that there was a huge problem here that needed to be unpacked. One of the women targeted was Anita Sarkeesian who subsequently became one of the three women featured in Netizens.
- I am very impressed with the workbook that you have available for schools and teachers in regard to your prize-winning movie, BULLY. Has the workbook been impactful? Do you plan a workbook for Netizens?
We had over five million students in America watch BULLY with their educators, and use our materials free-of-cost. As a result, we were effective in shifting bullying from being seen as a “normal” right of passage, to being something all schools and communities now know they must respond to. My hope for Netizens is that we can similarly shift the needle from online harassment and digital abuse being a “normal” part of the internet’s wild west, to being something we need not accept in our digital society. We have are developing tools are resources that audiences can engage with, including six discussion guides available specific to various groups including Employers, Law Enforcement and Policymakers, University Students and Educators, Violence Prevention Advocates and Women and Girls. These are available on our website www.NetizensFilm.com
- The movie, BULLY influenced legislation. Are you hopeful that Netizens will have the same impact? What changes would you wish to see?
I hope that as a result of Netizens audiences will feel empowered to take an active role in shaping their digital communities and will hold tech companies and policy-makers accountable for upholding our digital privacy and safeties. One great development is that Facebook is actively reducing “revenge porn” by creating tools that stop images at the source from being spread across all Facebook platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger) as soon as an image has been identified as revenge porn.
- I note that as Netizens opens across the country, there are also going to be Q and A sessions. Can you describe how that will work?
Netizens will launch a national community tour starting September 23rdin New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Miami and each screening will be accompanied by a Talk-Back and Q&A, with such participants as myself (the director), people from the film and experts. We welcome any groups or communities that wish to book a screening and they can visit www.NetizensFilm.com for tickets and more information.
- What was your inspiration for this very important project?
To shine a light on forms of violence that are ubiquitous yet normalized in our communities and to depict these stories in such a way as to transform our attitudes that this violence is inevitable or something we have to accept.
Thank you to Cynthia Lowen for the insightful answers. We encourage all of our readers to see this extremely important film.
Photos: Courtesy of Netizens
Note: Check Netizens Film to find out what cities the film is playing and where to buy tickets that the Netizens documentary will be available on Amazon, Apple, X-Box and Google Play. Netizens trailer