SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Hazel McKibbin’s short and incisive treatise, cleverly titled Doublespeak, focuses on how far we’ve yet to go when it comes to defining and dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace. In a succinct 10 minutes, it manages to convey the frustration of female employees who are brave enough to come forward about sexual misconduct, just to be crudely contradicted and rejected.
After staring at herself in the bathroom, Emma (Angela Wong Carbone) ends up in a conference room, being questioned by Ben (Tony Costa), an investigator looking into her claim. “It’s a very weighty issue,” Ben says. Yet, it doesn’t look like it’s being treated like one. As they go through the incidents, one by one, involving Emma’s co-worker Peter (Frank Lewallen), Ben presents Emma with every conceivable reason for why her accusations are rendered futile. “It’s not enough to definitively verify your claim,” he states conclusively. “This behavior does not constitute sexual harassment.”
“…Ben presents Emma with every conceivable reason for why her accusations are rendered futile.”
Does cornering a co-worker in a kitchen, an elevator, or after work and making inappropriate comments constitute sexual harassment? Apparently not, if the victim has waited too long, or if there’s no concrete evidence to prove it. “What was I supposed to do?” Emma asks. In a bitter twist of irony, she’s the one who ends up apologizing. The final shot will resonate with anyone who’s worked with a scumbag like Peter.
Carbone is marvelous and introverted as Emma, powerless against the system, feeling deflated just when she’s gathered enough courage to face this particular demon. McKibbin directs with the economy of a seasoned filmmaker, her focus tight on the message, her shot composition crisp and elegant.
Doublespeak is not about overt, “grab-your-as*” sexual harassment. It’s about the insulting comment, the improper teasing, the off-handed remarks that leave you feeling like dirt. It’s about that space in-between the lines that is so difficult to define, much less report. Not only are women supposed to suppress their inhibitions and come forward immediately, but they should also come armed with an arsenal of evidence, and that evidence should be of definitive as*-grabbing. Anything less than that… well, that’s just doublespeak.
"…Carbone is marvelous"