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‘Accused’ Seeks To Challenge Rape Stereotypes

October 19, 1988

HOLLYWOOD (AP) _ Inside a scruffy tavern called The Mill, patrons sip beer, a boxing match flickers on television, a jukebox plays and back in the game room, a group of men gang-rape a woman atop a pinball machine while others cheer them on.

In the new movie ″The Accused,″ it’s just another wild night out for the rapists and their chanting throng.

″The Accused,″ which chronicles the crusade of a rape victim (Jodie Foster) to bring both her assaulters and their applauding spectators to justice, shows in frank detail what rape is really about.

And for actress Kelly McGillis, who plays the prosecutor, the movie had an even more personal note.

″I was raped by two men in my apartment in New York City in 1982, so for me it’s far more than a movie,″ said McGillis, who found that while watching the completed film was ″difficult,″ it did address some important issues.

The actress only recently began talking publicly about the crime. In a recent interview with the New York Daily News, she said she decided to speak out after attending a fund-raiser at a Los Angeles rape treatment center. ″I was overwhelmed by the strength of the women I met and thought that I had been a coward by not speaking out myself,″ she said in the interview.

McGillis was not the only person associated with the film who had an intimate knowledge of rape and its aftermath. A former girlfriend of Jonathan Kaplan, the movie’s director, was gang-raped for 12 hours in their apartment while Kaplan was out of town, he said.

″Rape has almost become a right of initiation at fraternity houses,″ said Sherry Lansing, who co-produced ″The Accused″ with Stanley Jaffe.

″That’s appalling. ... What I hope will happen is that no one will ever look at a rape victim the same way again,″ Lansing said. ″No one will ever say, ’She asked for it.‴

Foster’s character, Sarah Tobias, is a provocative and foul-mouthed waitress who likes to have a good time. But the film points out, as courts and women’s groups have over the past few years, that the Sarah Tobiases are just as much a victim as women who are more demure and sheltered.

″The incredible thing about the rape scene in the movie is that it isn’t sexual,″ Foster said. ″It’s about violating humanity, and saying, ’This isn’t a person. This is like a piece of something to serve my purposes.‴

Hollywood has confronted rape before, and fairly graphically in movies such as ″Lipstick″ and ″Extremities.″

However, ″The Accused″ comes more directly from real life. It is strongly reminiscent of a 1983 case in New Bedford, Mass., in which a woman was gang- raped on a pool table at Big Dan’s bar, as several patrons either whooped encouragement or failed to intervene. The tavern was in a section of New Bedford heavily populated by Portuguese-Americans.

Six men, all of Portuguese descent, were charged in the case. Four were convicted and two were acquitted. Paramount Pictures, responding to criticism from Portuguese-American groups who said the movie will open old wounds, issued a disclaimer saying ″The Accused″ was not based on the New Bedford incident.

The movie, in part, focuses on the prosecution of the onlookers, who are charged with criminal solicitation.

″The movie came about because I’ve wanted to do a movie about the responsibility that you have as a bystander, a witness, and how sometimes you’re just as culpable when you watch something as when you actually participate,″ Lansing said.

To challenge the myth that women who say ″no″ actually mean ″yes,″ Sarah Tobias is brazen. That she chooses, on one evening at The Mill, to be sexually aggressive and let her guard down does not mean she wants men to do whatever they please.

″For a minute in her life she said, ‘I’m not going to feel danger.’ And she ends up paying the consequences for being herself, and that’s a really sad thing,″ Foster said.

″If I want to show that a woman always has the right to say no - no matter if she’s drunk, or stoned, or sexy or whatever - I have to paint a character who, in the beginning, I want to dismiss,″ Lansing said. ″But by the time you see what happened, I don’t think anybody could walk out of that movie and think that girl deserved to be raped.″

Lansing said it would be wrong to consider this a message film.

″If you want to send a message, you go to Western Union,″ she said. ’First and foremost, you have to do a piece of entertainment that people will enjoy. And then you slip your message in. The best film entertains you, and then you walk out of the theater and start to talk.″

Said McGillis: ″I don’t think a film can change a whole social pattern. But I do hope that what this film will do is to inspire people to start asking questions. That’s the beginning of education.″

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