*** Warning: This article contains major spoilers for BARBELLE Episodes 207 and 208 ***
With the #MeToo movement being so prevalent now in our day to day lives, several television shows have addressed the issue or had episodes revolving around the issue of sexual assault. BARBELLE decided to put its own spin on the issues in the two episodes it dropped this week on KindaTV. By putting a queer lens on the issue of sexual assault, BARBELLE was able to tell the story from an important angle, one not usually shown or discussed in mainstream media. Sandrine (Nadine Bhabha) found herself alone, drinking and talking after a photo shoot with Tommy (Erin Carter), who used her position of power to take advantage of the situation and Sandrine.
It was very clear that Sandrine was uncomfortable and not a willing participant in the events that transpired. Tommy had clearly recognized Sandrine’s ambition and eagerness to advance her career and used that as a way to get what she wanted from the young singer. In the second episode dropped on Wednesday, it was immediately clear that no matter how much she tried to act as if everything was fine, Sandrine was not OK with what had just happened.
The creators behind BARBELLE are no stranger to using their platform to discuss serious issues such as alcoholism, eating disorders and the negative effects of social media in between moments of ridiculous comedy, fake break ups and music videos. However, this storyline felt especially important and we here at The TV Junkies wanted to provide a space for co-creators and stars Karen Knox and Gwenlyn Cumyn to share more about their motivations for telling this story, what it was like to film these episodes and where the characters go from here as Season 2 concludes with its final two episodes next week. Read on for more insights from Knox and Cumyn.
The TV Junkies: We discussed this a bit at the beginning of Season 2, why you wanted to address the #MeToo movement, but what I loved was that you told it from a different perspective. You put a queer lens on it and had a woman in power as the offender. That’s not a side of the movement that we’ve seen a lot or heard a lot about. What all went into those choices and why did you want to tell this story in that specific way?
First off, wanted to thank you, Bridget for interviewing us specifically on these two episodes. We’re sure audiences will be wondering why we wanted to address this topic, and it’s great to be able to speak about why we felt it was important to include this story arc into the show. The concept of toxic masculinity is a well critiqued notion in post #MeToo media, but the presence of toxic masculinity within the culture of women and those who identify as female, not so much. There is an often dismissed dark side to queer culture that will sometimes let this behaviour go unchecked because of the misconception that it is somehow less dangerous when presented by a woman. Power gone unchecked can lead to problematic behaviour regardless of gender.
We also wanted to explore the notion of predators co-opting the concept of “female empowerment” as a way to encourage behaviour women or women identifying might not feel comfortable with. There is a lot of media these days in magazines, online, and in films that equate female power with nudity. And YES, nudity can absolutely be empowering, but it needs to be on your own terms. Your body belongs to you, and when/where/how you show it is your choice.
TTVJ: What was the reaction from KindaTV when you told them about this storyline? Was there any kind of pushback, especially since your show may have younger viewers?
There was definitely no pushback from KindaTV. They have been really great in terms of giving us the opportunity to explore some some darker topics in the second season, and we’re really grateful for that. We wanted to address this issue for a younger audience because this kind of abuse of power doesn’t discriminate against age. It’s very sad to say, but we know so many women in the industry who were taken advantage of when they were first trying to break into the arts scene. It’s the episode, the story, we wish we had seen when we were teenagers so that we could have had some context for understanding that this kind of behavior is absolutely unacceptable.
TTVJ: The situation in the episode deals with Tommy and Sandrine and has nothing to do with Alice and Veronica. Why did you want to make this not about them?
We both wanted to give the story the space and time it deserved. Alice and Veronica definitely weigh in on this element of the story in later episodes, but we felt it was important to give Sandrine a dedicated arc as the survivor of the experience. As a young woman, just breaking into the scene, Sandrine is put in an especially vulnerable position when it comes to predators like Tommy.
When we first started writing Season 2 we knew we wanted to include this story because it was one that wasn’t being told, and needed to be. It was one of the first episodes we wrote, and the one that probably changed the least from draft to draft as the season came together.
TTVJ: This had to be a difficult episode to shoot for both Erin and Nadine. How did you work through this with them and what was the process like shooting this episode?
Totally. We’re incredibly grateful to both Erin and Nadine for helping us to tell this story. We talked about this episode A LOT. We made sure we filmed on what’s called a “closed set.” That means that no one except absolutely essential personnel are allowed to be on set while the filming takes place.
We also had extensive discussions with Erin and Nadine about exactly what would happen during the scene, and had all the movement/action planned out before we filmed. It was so important to make sure that both actors knew they were working in a safe environment because the risk was so big for them as performers. They both did an incredible job and we can’t thank them enough.
TTVJ: We see an immediate effect of what happened with Tommy on Sandrine’s attitude in Episode 208. Will others take notice and how will she deal with this incident?
We wanted to communicate the complicated feelings one can have after a traumatic sexual event. Sometimes we convince ourselves we’re totally fine with it as a way of coping, and then the trauma finds its way out through different means. We see that with Sandrine in Episode 208. Viewers can rest assured that the rest of the BARBELLE characters will contend with this story line in later episodes.
TTVJ: What do you want viewers to take away from these two episodes?
That toxic masculinity isn’t exclusive to frat-boy culture. That queer women also experience sexual assault. That this experience isn’t any less traumatic or harmful than when it occurs with a man. Consent is complicated, especially when power dynamics are involved.
In the episode, Tommy asks Sandrine “You want me” to which she replies “Yes.” However we can clearly see that her physical consent is not enthusiastic. Not to mention the fact that Sandrine has been drinking and is in a situation where she is vulnerable to Tommy’s position as someone who is older/experienced/successful. With this in mind, we want viewers to recognize the complexity of consent, and know that no matter how murky an experience is, if you felt weird about it, something was probably not okay, and that’s NOT your fault.
TTVJ: Is there anything I missed that you wanted to touch on?
Well, we wanted to mention that as of April 23, Karen Knox’s award-winning directorial debut, The Case of the Massey Bodice Ripping, featuring Gwenlyn Cumyn, became available on Canada’s National Screen Institute website. The film also explores issues of consent and how we treat the experience of survivors in media. If you are interested in watching it you can see it here.
The film does depict sexual violence and might not be appropriate for all viewers.
TTVJ: Where should viewers go if they need further support or help? What resources are available to them?
The Toronto Rape Crisis Centre was kind enough to work with us on the development of the script for Case of the Massey Bodice Ripping and were also present with us on set while we filmed. They are an incredible organization that offer counseling to survivors and support groups. Website: https://trccmwar.ca/
RAINN – (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org). Help is available 24/7!
Safe Horizon – Safe Horizon provides support for victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, and more. As well as connecting victims with advocates who can help them report their assaults or find counseling, it also offers direct legal assistance to low-income victims, as well as free legal information and advice. Website: https://www.safehorizon.org/
Anti Violence Project – AVP provides support to LGBT and HIV-affected communities for any type of violence, and offers support groups, legal assistance, and even “arts expression groups” for victims of hate violence, sexual violence, and intimate partner violence. Website: https://avp.org/
RCNE – (Rape Crisis Network Europe) is the network of European centres which support survivors of sexual violence. They aim to make sure that anyone who experiences sexual violence can get the help they need! Website: https://www.rcne.com/
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.