In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, actress and filmmaker Rachel Leyco has released her new short film, “Say Something”. The short tackles the tough subject of sexual assault among romantic partners, which if often overlooked by traditional media despite the fact that most child and teen victims are assaulted by someone they know. The boundaries that exist between partners can make situations, like the one highlighted in Leyco’s film, complicated, but the same rules still apply. You don’t “get some” just because you’re in a relationship. Consent is still required. No means no. The film also highlights the power bystanders have to prevent sexual assault with the simplest of actions.
On her YouTube channel, Leyco actively speaks out about issues that plague the American entertainment industry. She’s one of many young actors fed up with an antiquated system, and “Say Something” is her latest effort to bring real world issues into her work.
Leyco recently sat down with Outspeak to discuss her new short, rape culture in America, and her upcoming projects.
Outspeak: Can you tell us a bit about why you wanted to make "Say Something" and its importance to you?
Rachel Leyco: This year, I made it a mission of mine to actively speak out on injustices in our society and break the stigma on issues that are usually swept under the rug. When I realized April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I knew I needed to create a story that would move others to take action in their everyday lives. Often, the depiction of sexual assault in film and TV is from the victim's perspective, but the majority of society are the ones on the other side of this - the bystanders. It dawned on me that in order to powerfully move others to take action on rape prevention, the story needed to be told from the outsiders point of view.
O: Did you find it difficult to tackle the subject of sexual assault?
RL: Sexual assault has always been taboo in our society, mostly in part due to the fact that it's a tough case to crack when it happens behind closed doors. But I've never been afraid to tackle controversial issues that matter, because I have such deep passion for love and justice. It's important that we use our voice, our actions, and our talents to create a safe and loving climate here on earth.
O: How did you keep spirits high on set when dealing with a tough subject matter?
RL: Fortunately, I worked with some of my closest friends and really open, passionate talented creatives on this set. From the start, I wanted to create a fun and comfortable environment so we shot the party scenes first. When it came down to the actual assault scene, my actors were already acquainted with each other and just so willing to really dive into it. It was hard to watch the scene unfold, but knowing the message makes it worthwhile.
O: Sexual assault and rape culture are big issues in America right now, and we're seeing more and more court cases, often going the way of the accused. What do you think of the current state of things?
RL: It's such a nuanced issue. It's really a case-by-case basis. But I'm so glad we're talking about this more and more. I'm proud that victims are stepping up and speaking out. We should never stay silent on the truth. It's so frustrating and unfortunate that college campuses try to silence victims when their reputation is on the line; they need and must do more to protect victims that come forward by a proper course of action in trial and investigation.
O: You've been vocal about the issues that exist within the film industry on your YouTube channel. Sexual assault cases are cropping up with many beloved actors and actresses. It's obviously a good thing that it's not staying silent, but there's a lot of work to be done here. What are your thoughts on this?
RL: I'm extremely proud and excited about shows like "13 Reasons Why" and artists, like Brie Larson, coming forward in support of spreading awareness. It's a brave step toward progress. I know the media has concerns about film and TV explicitly portraying sexual assault, as in "13 Reasons Why," but there was nothing glamorous about any of those depictions. They were real, raw, and true. Sugarcoating these issues will only prevent us from the truth that we need to know. The more we, as artists, can convey the reality of these tragedies, the more we can shed light on ways to improve and heal our world.
O: What are your next projects in the works we can look out for?
RL: I am currently developing two web series: an anthology drama on mental health and a dramedy about an undocumented immigrant. I believe these are some pressing issues that need to be explored on a more deep substantial level that can, hopefully, open up some dialogue and enlighten our society in the realities of these issues.
For more details on sexual assault prevention and for helpful resources, visit nsvrc.org.