A couple of weeks ago I was driving my son to school when I took a left onto LaBrea, and, as usual, sat in traffic for a couple of minutes. As we waited for the construction bottleneck to ease up, we sang along with the new Shins CD. And then, at the same moment, we fell silent.
We were both noticing the same thing.
It was a billboard for a movie. There was actress Elisha Cuthbert, super-heavily made up-dare I say whorishly-- being used as the centerpiece of the most repulsive, horrifying, woman-hating, human- hating thing I have ever seen in public.
The first image had a black-gloved hand over her mouth, titled CAPTURE. Next, her eyes begged for rescue as her mascara ran and her bloody finger tried to pry its way out of a cage, titled CONFINEMENT.
In the next picture, titled TORTURE, she was encased in a strange mask, with tubes coming out of her nose, draining blood. Maybe. We couldn't figure out if it was tubes or a hook-that was another thing about it-you had to keep looking to figure out what the hell was going on.
The last frame was Elisha, may her career rest in peace after posing for this, hanging dead, lying on her back with one breast prominently displayed. The word in this frame was TERMINATION.
That night I had a nightmare about the billboard, and by the next morning, I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach. This wasn't just horror, this wasn't just misogyny... it was a grody combo platter of the two, the torture almost a punishment for the sexiness. It had come from such a despicable inhuman hatred place that it somehow managed to recall Abu Ghraib, the Holocaust, porn and snuff films all at once.
The next morning I decided to take a different route. Except this time I saw two more of the same billboards. It felt like they were EVERYWHERE, peppered all over my city. That afternoon, after the ride home with two more ten year olds in my car-one, a little girl, whose face I watched in my rearview mirror as she tried to make sense of the billboard. Now I was ready to take action.
Instead of making dinner and doing my usual after schooly things, I googled my way to the main number for Lionsgate, the video distributor of this film- and left a message for CEO John Feltheimer asking him to take them down. I sent the number to a few other people, and that night, hoped to sleep without a nightmare.
The next day, my email in-box was filled with hundreds of letters from people thanking me for giving them a place to voice to their feelings. Back channel operatives had sent me Feltheimer's private line and I distributed that one to the latest angry people. Lionsgate said they had nothing to do with After Dark and didn't approve the ads in the first place- they felt they had no responsibility because Lionsgate would only be making money from the home video sales.
That afternoon I spoke to Jill Simpson at the MPAA who told me that something really strange had happened the week before. She said someone had actually come in to their offices-a woman named Sherry Harding-with this exact artwork-and had shown it to them in person for approval.
Jill Simpson said that no one ever does that, things always come in over email and in attached files. No one ever walks in with art like that.
Of course, the MPAA saw the horrific-ness and told them they couldn't put it up.
And two days later it was up.
At the end of my very first tirade day, someone sent me the name of the main scumbag behind this entire operation: super-sociopath Courtney Solomon of After Dark Films.
A few hours later, Solomon called me. He insisted the fact that the billboards were up at all was a printer error. "We were all at ShoWest," he said, re: the distributor conference in Vegas that week-"and we had no idea they were even up!" Solomon apologized and said they would be down in two days, then offered to make a donation to a woman's organization.
He promised me the ones they meant to put up were soooooo much better, just a woman buried alive. He wrote me a long apology letter, insisting that these were "ideas submitted" but never approved by them in-house.
The next night, I met with about ten women and men, moms and TV writers and regular people, plus a rep from the city council, feminist organizers and peace activists-- in the library of my son's school, to talk. People shared their feelings and their rage, and some shared awful memories of violent crime and rape, memories triggered by this 4-panel publicly displayed snuff film.
In the library that night, we made a decision to wage a campaign to make the live up to what they're supposed to do in this case. Their stated consequence for violating their advertising rules is the removal of a film's rating. Without a rating, After Dark will not be able to show the film in American theaters, causing a loss of revenue-the only consequence that is truly meaningful to studios and advertisers.
It's about a week later now, and we have found out a lot of things.
It turns out these weren't ideas submitted to After Dark, but rather photographs art-directed down to the detail by the lovely Mr. Solomon.
It turns out it took them six days to come down instead of two. One of the billboards could be seen from the Ivanhoe schoolyard.
It turns out they're using our rage as links on their advertising campaign, calling it the film that caused all the outrage. It turns out that after the billboards came down, they replaced them with the proud outlaw message: Captivity was here.
It turns out that Moriarty, the authority on horror films on aint-it-cool-news.com, gave this movie the stinkiest possible review and they knew no one would see it so they did this to drum up publicity.
The Hills Have Eyes billboard is still up, of a man dragging a corpse in a body bag. The coming soon one-sheet for the delighthful Lionsgate's Hostel II is one of the indescribably repulsive things I have ever seen.
The good news is this: we actually are at a cultural moment where we have the power to say-- just as we have with porn and cigarettes-fine for those who want it, but please don't advertise it on our streets, on our way to school and work.
Anyway, the discussion and agitation continues at
and we would love to hear from more people who want to weigh in, using our section. There's also info for where to send a letter or email to MPAA chairman Dan Glickman. The MPAA ruling is coming next week, and we are thrilled that as they make their decision, they are reading our thoughts on the blog. We are hoping they heed our wishes and that it is their plan to not only disable Courtney Solomon's pariah-complex ego machinery, but also stop all horror/torture filmmakers from advertising their vile fantasies in front of the rest of us .
What follows is Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon's awesome letter to the MPAA...
From: Joss Whedon
Sent: Thursday, March 22, 2007 10:17 PM
Subject: CAPTIVITY BILLBOARDS/REMOVE THE RATING
To the MPAA,
There's a message I'm supposed to cut and paste but I imagine you've read it. So just let me say that the ad campaign for "Captivity" is not only a literal sign of the collapse of humanity, it's an assault. I've watched plenty of horror - in fact I've made my share. But the advent of torture-porn and the total dehumanizing not just of women (though they always come first) but of all human beings has made horror a largely unpalatable genre. This ad campaign is part of something dangerous and repulsive, and that act of aggression has to be answered.
As a believer not only in the First Amendment but of the necessity of horror stories, I've always been against acts of censorship. I distrust anyone who wants to ban something 'for the good of the public'. But this ad is part of a cycle of violence and misogyny that takes something away from the people who have to see it. It's like being mugged (and I have been). These people flouted the basic rules of human decency. God knows the culture led them there, but we have to find our way back and we have to make them know that people will not stand for this. And the only language they speak is money. (A devastating piece in the New Yorker - not gonna do it.) So talk money. Remove the rating, and let them see how far over the edge they really are.
Thanks for reading this, if anyone did.
Sincerely, Joss Whedon.
Creator, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"