From the filmmaker who wrote Willow Garden and directed Box, comes a short drama about a successful DC attorney who is sexually assaulted by a coworker after a date. Framed against the historic Women’s March on Washington of 2017, this movie is about how she struggles with the aftermath as she is presented with a sadly, all-too-familiar choice: Report the incident and face professional reprisal or stay silent and bear the burden alone while the man who assaulted her thrives in his career.
When Devon asks Claire out, it seems like life is going her way. She’s on the partner-track and now she might find love on top of that. Her date with Devon goes incredibly well and they go back to her apartment afterwards. She’s into him, she wants him, and allows him to undress her, but then she changes her mind.
She tells him she’s tired after having too much to drink, but he protests, “No, no, no, we’re just getting started.” But she passes out, believing she’s with someone she can trust, and he takes advantage of that.
And then her world shatters.
She has a panic attack during a meeting and is called into HR to receive an official reprimand, but she’s unable to share the source of her anxiety. She wants to, but she’s worried about the career she’s built and her reputation. After an uncomfortable confrontation with Devon in her office, she finally turns to her friend in HR. But instead of support, she gets doubt, “it sounds like you were drinking a lot.” Claire again considers reporting the assault, but her friend warns her what happens to women in the firm when they speak up. Their careers never recover.
Claire decides to stay silent, focus on work and dedicate herself to making partner. She walks in on a conversation with Devon and her boss, Mr. Miller, discussing the outrage over the election and they both say they’re going to the Women’s March with the respective women in their lives. But after this, her boss sends her an email indicating that he’s heard about what happened and that he hopes she can put her romance with Devon behind her. At this point Claire knows what she needs to do.
We see her walking to work during the Women’s March to turn in her letter of resignation. Claire walks into the empty office, the protest cheers and sound can be heard outside, and after she’s done it, Claire walks away and disappears into the crowd of peaceful protesters marching for the justice she’ll never see.
nevertheless, she persisted.
This is not a feel good story with a happy ending. This is a protest film. This is an angry film. This is a film about a situation that countless women face, where they are doubted, threatened, and intimidated into silence. This is about how both men and women can be enablers to predators and how some of those who most loudly vocalize support are the worst offenders.
When Donald Trump was elected, I wasn’t yet aware of the #metoo movement, but I was an unwilling member, the price of admission. Grab This! grew from the sleepless nights post-election, outraged at the dismissal of hate, racism, misogyny, and sexual assault. Trump could “grab ‘em [women] by the pussy” because “When you’re a star...you can do anything” and still become President.
But assaulters don’t have to be stars just to get away with it. We’re seeing this reality unfold in society at an unprecedented pace as abusers in all level of power, in all walks of life are being exposed because their victims finally feel comfortable enough to come forward. When Grab This! wrapped shooting in April of 2017, the Harvey Weinstein story wouldn’t break for another seven months, and the waves of allegations and truths that continue to be revealed give the film new meaning and context.
While making the movie, the cinematographer, David, and I worked closely with Karen (Claire) to create a safe set to shoot this film, especially the scene depicting the assault. It was important to me that Karen had a large say in selecting the actor to play Devon. We also had many conversations over what to show and how much to show. In the end, I decided to stay close on their faces, to not back away from the horror and to directly confront pain of this life-changing moment.
I don’t think everyone will see the sexual assault at Claire’s apartment as clearly as I (and many others who’ve watched it) do. To these other viewers, they see grey. She had fun on the date. She said yes. She was into it. She wanted him. She let him take off her underwear.
But then she said no. And this no and Devon’s lack of respect for that word causes her life to splinter.
I want this scene to spark a conversation and dialogue that ties into the larger narrative and reckoning of sexual assault. I wanted to integrate the subtle ways people can be taken advantage of at their most vulnerable. The constant reassurance that everything is fine, that things shouldn’t stop because they’re having fun, that they should relax. The very nature of consent. This scene is an uncomfortable examination of these intimate moments.
After an intimidating moment at the office with Devon, Claire finally turns to HR, but she’s blamed - “It sounds like you were drinking a lot.” And she’s told of the consequences if she files a complaint, “You do not want to be known as that drunk bitch who fucked Devon...I’ve seen this before at other firms, and it never ends well for the woman...ever.” This is exactly the abuser-enabling behavior that has allowed predator men to assault women over, and over, and over. When their stories break, people are shocked that they were able to do this for years under plain sight. But this film explores the institutions that make this not only possible, but tragically common.
I often thought of making Claire victorious in the end, giving her the justice I so truly wanted her to have - the justice I want all of us to have - but I couldn’t. That wouldn’t be honest or true. According to RAINN, out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free. And in Grab This!, Claire walks away from her career, unable to continue at a law firm where everyone wants her to shut up and pretend like it never happened.
I also wanted to examine the culture of faux support, namely from men who say they favor women’s rights but are the first to ignore, take advantage of, and blame victims. Her boss along with Devon are planning on going to the Women’s March on Washington, yet when Claire’s boss learns of what happened from HR, he reframes the incident as a romance that Devon ended, and he hopes Claire can “put that behind her.”
When the Women’s March was first organized, I was excited to see such a strong response and creation of an event, but Claire doesn’t participate in the march even though she’s there to turn in her letter of resignation. For her, the march isn’t empowering because the very man who assaulted her is there marching for what he’s taken advantage of. There’s nothing for her there.
Victims have been told for too long to shut up and keep quiet. Before my cast and crew travelled to the Women’s March on Washington to film the opening and closing scenes of the film, I spent many days and nights talking with women in my life who confided in me about their own assaults. Their stories and belief in this project kept me going. I knew I had to finish it for them and for me. At the Women’s March, surrounded by hundreds of thousands outraged voices ready to fight for change, I knew this film was a part of something larger. It’s not my film; it’s a film for everyone who’s been forced to join the #metoo club, a club no one wants to be a member of.
This film is a protest. So to everyone out there who ignores the #metoo movement and the brave people sharing their stories, well, you can #grabthis!