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16 year-old Roxanne Lasker-Hall wins top national award for movie on sexual violence

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013 by Raluca Besliu

Roxanne Lasker-Hall from Cleveland, Ohio is already an award winning movie script writer. When she was only 16, she participated in and won the National Scriptwriting Contest in Scenarios USA Youth/Film Industry Collaboration with her movie script, “Speechless.”

Her script, which she wrote specifically for the contest, addressed a spiky and rarely addressed reality in high-schools and society, male-on-male sexual assaults. “Speechless” is the story of Desmond, a high-school student, who is assaulted by his sister’s boyfriend. The movie portrays the young man’s struggles with feelings of shame and insecurity about whether or not he should reveal his assault and to whom.

Roxanne wanted to challenge herself by writing from a male point of view. After reading numerous stories on a forum for male sexual violence survivors, she realized not only that most people had no idea about the existence of male-on-male sexual violence, but that they had deep prejudices about what sexual violence means and believed that it can only happen to women. Through her script, Roxanne wanted to prove not only that sexual assaults are also undergone by men, but that they, as survivors, were as just strong and deserving of societal support as women.

Through her movie script, Roxanne wanted to send a message to sexual assault survivors and all other people facing difficult circumstances that “being silent is not going to save you, but that “using your voice and telling what happened is where strength comes from.” She also wanted to highlight the fact that there are resources for any kind of strenuous situation and there will always be someone willing to listen and help, whether it is a teacher or a friend.

As part of the prize for the contest, Roxanne had the opportunity to work with Hollywood director, Karyn Kusama, to transform the script into a movie. Kusama was encouraging, but pushed Roxanne to achieve the best in her script, by rewriting it for the movie adaptation. The high-school student was involved in all aspects of the filming process, from choosing the location, Cleveland Heights High-School, which she chose because she wanted a suburban environment, as it would be more relatable to the general audience, to shooting it and determining post-production details, such as music selection.

After its premiere in New York City, “Speechless” was put on Scenarios USA’s website, with a curriculum and lessons plans for it to be used by teachers throughout the country during the upcoming school year.  At the premiere, all the attendees, mainly teachers and film-makers, were given copies to show the movie to their target audiences.

When discussing challenges, Roxanne emphasized that her greatest difficulties in writing the script and shooting the movie were making it seem real.  She wanted to push people’s boundaries and their understanding of sexual violence, while staying true to her goal of providing a realistic portrayal of the matter, including that her character might not have a happy Hollywood ending.

In turn, one of the young writer’s biggest joys was meeting Karyn Kusama and being able to introduce her to her family. She confessed that, at particular moment, she felt great pride in herself.

While writing has always been a passion for Roxanne, as she has been writing since she was in first grade and she has written plays and other material, she considers “Speechless” to be her greatest work to date and the piece that determined her to become a writer.

Currently, Roxanne is focused on writing a criminal novel written from the villain’s point of view. In preparation for her novel, she has already started researching multiple serial killers, like Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer, as well as cult leaders, which she describes as “twisted in their own way”. She eventually hopes to transform her book into a movie as well.

While her accomplishments already surpass those of many adults, Roxanne has just recently finished high-school. She will be attending Cleveland State University. She would eventually like to transfer to a school in New York City, such as New York University, where she believes she will have access to the types of opportunities that a rising writer needs.

When encouraging other young entrepreneurs to pursue their writing passion, Roxanne advises: “Don’t be afraid to write. (…) I was once told: a writer will get a million and one rejections, but when you get that one acceptance, it is going to take you somewhere. And the more rejection you get, the better writer you become, because you have to challenge yourself to figure out ‘what can I tweak’ and ‘what can I make better about it.’” She also advised: “Don’t be afraid of criticism, because it really does help.”

This is the full Roxanne interview.

 

Click here for lesson plans using film: http://www.scenariosusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Speechless_LessonPlan.pdf

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