A UB graduate’s harrowing dramatization of assault couldn’t come at a better time
By David Chiodaroli
In the world of Emblems, the powerful and emotionally charged screenplay by the recently graduated Rachel Jackson, victims of sexual and physical assault are branded by a telltale mark on their face. While the mark fades overtime, it remains a constant reminder of what the victim endured at the hands of his or her assailant. But when Esperanza, the victim of a workplace assault, takes her accused rapist Andrew Jenkins to court, something strange happens. A similar mark appears on Andrew’s face, almost identical to the one on Esperanza. When corresponding marks begin to appear on the faces of both victims and victimizers, Esperanza’s case is given renewed credibility, and her fight for justice receives the boost that it so desperately needs.
Originally conceived in professor Kimberly Lynne’s screenwriting class, Emblems was presented as a live reading by Spotlight, the University of Baltimore’s performance arts program, on October 12th. The play premiered at the tail end of a hectic week in the entertainment world, when fallout from Harvey Weinstein’s years of sexual misconduct lead his own production company to fire him. The allegations made against the media mobile sparked a debate about the issues many women face, especially when dealing with powerful, sexually domineering men, who use their positions of authority to do as they please with their female subordinates. The scandal also reignited arguments about rape culture and societal misogyny, made worse by the damning influence of Men’s Rights Activism, the Alt-Right, and the many deplorable views held by our current administration. In another ironic twist, Emblems premiered several weeks after it was announced that Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s education secretary, was invited to speak at Fall commencement. DeVos angered many last month when she amended Title IX restrictions, using a flawed ‘two sides’ logic, that would ultimately make it easier for rapists to get away with their crimes on college campuses.
For Jackson, this is an all too real circumstance. “So many of my friends all have their own stories about different assaults that they experienced,” Jackson told me in a phone interview that took place a week before the premier. “I was inspired by one friend in particular who was having a really rough time with what she had been through, and I was just struck by the fact that she would be dealing with the scars from that encounter.” Jackson felt that it wasn’t fair for victims of sexual violence to spend the rest of their lives with such pain, “so, I created a world where justice would happen, where whoever did an assault like that would have to wear the scars too.”
Jackson describes her protagonist, Esperanza, as a “reluctant hero, who is trying to come to terms with people looking at her as a leader.” Yet, as the story goes on, Esperanza is encouraged by her Abuela, who is also a victim, to embrace her newfound leadership, and lead the charge against relationship violence. Esperanza is also held up by her support group, all of who are victims themselves, who yearn for justice to be served. The performance is also significant for featuring a Latino lead, something that Jackson thinks is severely lacking in our modern entertainment world.
“It’s very important for me to have more Latinos in art,” Jackson tells me. “Coming from someone who is a mixed Latina, it’s very important for me to see more of that.”
While the subject matter of Emblems may come across as troubling or disturbing to some, the point of such pieces is to give audiences a new perspective on an issue that most would not like to discuss. As it is often the case, the ability to empathize with others is never easy, nor was it ever meant to make one feel good. In fact, empathy can often make us depressed or angry for those whose shoes we are stepping into. Yet, it is this disdain that can lead us to action, and make performances like Emblems so important in these troubled times.
To find out more on Spotlight UB, visit its webpage at www.ubalt.edu/spotlightub.