By Gianluca D’Elia
When the news of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment scandal broke last year, Gabi Faye Levin, ’12, had just finished shooting a short film about a stripper who gets sexually assaulted by a police officer.
Since then, her film “Stripped” has amassed success online and debuted at its first festival, the Bergen County Film Festival in Teaneck, on March 10. The film made its premiere during an important time, with national conversations about sexual violence elevating in the past months in the midst of the #MeToo movement and multiple celebrities being called out for sexual misconduct.
“It’s ironic, the timing it all happened in,” said Levin, who produced the film and played the lead role of Jenna Kertz. “After the Harvey Weinstein craziness started, I remember having this feeling of ‘Oh, my God.’ I feel like, so often, films and anything in media always mirror what’s going in society. The timing felt so bizarre, and I actually felt sad for a while because it’s about time people stand up and speak up.”
Originally influenced by the Netflix prison drama “Orange is the New Black,” Levin sought to make a film where she could also play the role of an incarcerated woman. In the film, Jenna is assaulted by the character Officer Tompkins, but she is the one who ends up getting arrested when she fights back in self-defense.
Levin’s idea to write her own character as a stripper came from her passion for pole dancing. She has taken classes for the last four years and has also taught pole dancing in New York, Hoboken and her hometown of Baltimore.
Ashley Leeds, a senior psychology major and president of Real Education About College Health, saw the film while she was on spring break in Bergen County.
“I thought the message was excellent,” she said. “Sexual assault will always be a prominent issue, and Gabi portrays it in a creative way that spreads more awareness.”
Though Levin did not spoil the final moments of the film when being interviewed, she did mention that it leaves off on a cliffhanger, so it does not necessarily have a happy ending. But offscreen, Levin and her crew did experience a small victory for sexual assault victims, all because they were in the right place at the right time while filming.
By luck, Levin’s neighbor worked with a campus police officer at a nearby college who loves films, and the officer allowed Levin and her crew to use a holding room to create the impression of being in a jail cell. He told them that if someone actually got arrested that night, they would have to leave. It was a Monday night, so Levin was hopeful that their shooting would go uninterrupted.
Later that night, after they had finished, Levin found out campus police responded to a call about a man sexually assaulting a woman. The campus police intended to take the alleged perpetrator to the campus station, but the officer who helped Levin changed his mind about kicking the film crew out, and told security to take the man to the local police station instead. Since the town police dealt with the incident instead of the college, the man now has a criminal record.
“It was crazy how we were making this film about assault, and in real life we ended up being the reason this guy had a record. I felt like we were getting a double win,” Levin said.
Levin is thankful that she created a project that is making an impact and getting viewers to think about injustice.
“Women can accuse a man of something, but it doesn’t always get heard or solved,” she said. “But we’re living in a time where things are being taken seriously for the first time. It’s amazing to be a part of that. The best way to educate people is to talk about it, to show it in whatever medium you’re passionate about. For me, that was film.”