“Roll Red Roll,” Nancy Schwartzman’s documentary about one of the most infamous rape cases in recent years, opens with vistas of quiet nighttime streets in a small town — and a tape of giddy teenage boys giggling about “the dead girl.”
“She is so raped right now,” one of them says. “This is the funniest thing ever.”
The story of “Jane Doe,” a Steubenville, Ohio high school girl who was raped by high school football players while she was unconscious (or semi-conscious), received national and international coverage when it happened in 2012. You may remember the broad outlines of the case, but Schwartzman lays out the story in detail — and the more dispassionate her camera is, the more chilling the tale becomes.
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Steubenville at large seemed willing to dismiss the girl’s account as a “he said/she said” situation fueled by alcohol and teenage hormones, until Alexandria Goddard, a local crime blogger, got the names of the boys on the football team and combed through their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. What emerged was a timeline in which the boys, giddy with power, laid out exactly what happened that night — and when Goddard posted it on the internet, football-crazy Steubenville exploded, and not in a good way.
To reveal what happened next would spoil “Roll Red Roll” (named for the football team’s slogan), which includes videotape of police testimony as well as courtroom footage. It's not clear whether Schwartzman attempted to interview either the boys or their families (she was rebuffed in an attempt to interview their football coach, who refused even to bench his star players involved). One of the player’s attorneys lays out his defense for his client for Schwartzman, and it’s pitifully weak.
“Roll Red Roll,” of course, has special resonance in the age of #MeToo, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasey Ford, but it’s also an eternal story about what happens when a society prizes its sons over its daughters.