Okay, so I've just finished watching Riddick. I'd been warned by friends and seen in various reviews that in the third act of the film Riddick does something that would likely upset me. I watched the movie anyway. And I feel a need to address what I've read and been told versus what I saw.
Spoilers below the jump.
Okay, so, as most of you who know me are aware, I'm a rape survivor. And in my case a survivor of a particularly brutal gang rape followed by three months of nightly rape. Suffice it to say it fucked my head up for the past two plus decades, and I am VERY sensitive to the the subject of rape. Most of you who know me also know, if you've seen my ragefests about Daniel Tosh and Robin Thicke and their gutless promotion of Rape Culture, that I happily and readily call out Rape Culture and Rape Jokes wherever I see them.
So with that in mind, consider the weight of my words as I say this; No, Riddick did NOT make a Rape joke/threat towards Katie Sackhoff's character Dahl in this movie, nor was the movie promoting Rape Culture.
Allow me to explain why.
Yes, taken out of context, there are three moments in the final act of the film that could be construed as problematic. Two that I can understand could easily be seen as rape culture, and one that could be seen as heterosexist. But ONLY out of context.
IN context they are nothing of the kind. I'll dissect them one by one.
First of all, anyone familiar with the character of Riddick himself knows the character is pretty much asexual. He's never shown any real sexual interest in any gender, aside of psyching people out to get under their skin. And he's been an equal opportunity psycher outer, but never overtly sexual. With Riddick it's always just getting close enough to make someone uncomfortable then saying something intentionally unnerving to put them off-balance. Then a sly charming smile as he backs off to go fuck with someone else's head. Keep this in mind as I dissect the three moments.
1) The shower scene.
It's perfectly reasonable to assume a man secretly watching a woman shower is an example of rape culture, of him violating her privacy, violating her boundaries. If I was unfamiliar with the character and saw this scene out of context that's exactly what I would assume was going on here. But IN context, this is not a woman to Riddick. This is just another member of two crews of mercenaries here to capture or kill him.
And she's not the only one he spies on. He waits til each of them are alone and watches from the shadows to gauge what he's dealing with, and in Dahl's case, get something he needs; her compact mirror. He tests to see how alert each one is, measures them up, figures out how much of a threat they are. Once he had her mirror he left, and she never even knew he was there. Granted the fact that she was naked in the shower males the scene more uncomfortable, but from Riddick's viewpoint he doesn't care that it's a naked woman, only that she's alone and distracted and easier to access as a potential threat. Out of context? Creepy as fuck. IN context? Strategic tactics.
2) The "Rape Threat".
Riddick, now captured and in chains, starts the psychological warfare. He starts winding up the Mercs, mostly by being honest and funny. He smiles, cracks jokes, and matter-of-factly tells the character who killed his dog how and when he's going to kill him. But what he says to Dahl is what mostly has people up in arms. He looks at her and smiles and says in a joking tone, "Who knows, maybe I'll even end up balls deep in Dahl over there." This is NOT a threat to rape her. He clearly doesn't say it as a threat to harm her.
He says it in an intentionally standoffish joking tone to let her know he IS no threat to her if she respects him. When she laughs and replies she's not going to straddle him in front of the other mercs, he smiles again and asks her "What if I kill them all first?". Again, out of context this might appear as him saying "I'll kill everyone else then fuck you against your will", but the dialogue as written has him CLEARLY posing it as a hypothetical "If there's no audience would you like to?" His wording never once implies any threat or joke about forcing himself upon her. He's already seen her beat up one character for ACTUALLY TRYING to rape her, he respects her, he knows she's strong and tough and he respects that. He's not cracking a joke or making a threat that he will force sex upon her, he's letting her know she's respected by cracking a joke about impressing HER to the point that she might ALLOW it.
He never intones that they WILL have sex whether she likes it or not, NEVER tells her he'll take her by force, and NEVER suggests she has no agency in the matter. Hell, he never even says it WILL happen in the way he says Santana WILL die. All he does is let HER know she's not on his shit list by making her laugh, because he knows she knows how a rapist ACTUALLY behaves. IN the context of what has already happened in the movie so far, he's telling her in a way he knows she'll understand, "I like you, you've got balls, if you don't fuck with me, I won't kill you."
3) The Straddle
At the end, the surviving Mercs keep their word and rescue Riddick, via Dahl being lowered from a dropship on a cable to retrieve Riddick from a cliff. Ever seen a hiker or mountain climber rescued by helicopter in real life ? Yeah, the straddling is the default physical action for making sure the rescue target is secure before pulling them up. It allows the rescuER to keep them stable while they attach the ropes or cables or harness to the one they're rescuing.
I've read some folks getting upset because they think this scene is saying "Riddick is so manly he woo'd the lesbian". There are two problems with that.
One is that while it's heavily hinted at, it's never outright confirmed that Dahl is a lesbian. She rebuffs the advances of other Mercs by saying "I don't fuck men. I sometimes fuck them UP, but I don't fuck them". This doesn't necessarily mean she's a lesbian though. She could be celibate, or she could be blowing off the creepy guy's advances with a not so thinly veiled threat. Or she could indeed be a lesbian, but it's never confirmed, or even really focused on. It's one line out of her entire performance directed at a creep making sleazy comments towards her.
Secondly, when she's straddling Riddick to attach the rescue cable and get him off the cliff, she never says or does anything sexual towards him. She's openly laughing at the irony that his joking prediction came true and she did in fact end up straddling him. Neither make any move to kiss each other, they both just share a laugh over the sheer black comedy of the moment. He only even puts a hand on her hip to steady himself when she pulls him back up to the ship. There's nothing at all sexual about their interaction here. He's impressed her on a sheer level of earning badass respect as she previously had to him, and this moment is a show of mutual respect, not sexual tension. Riddick is, again, asexual and without any noticeable gender bias. Everyone is equal to him until they do something to either show they're a potential threat to be respected and dealt with carefully, or to be no threat at all and dispatched or ignored. Neither character shows any real attraction to one another, only mutual respect.
I'm sure some folks will disagree or argue my points. But I'm speaking from the position of a rape survivor who fights Rape Culture every single day. I can safely consider myself a reasonable expert about the subject. And I honestly think that the moments in Riddick that I admit I myself would see as supporting Rape Culture out of context? IN context it just doesn't hold up. IN the context of THIS movie, the character involved, the mythology of the movie's universe, and the backstory of the main character, no, there is no Rape Culture promotion here. Not in my educated informed opinion.
There IS however one moment in the movie that DOES truly upset me. One cardinal rule of filmmaking this movie breaks.
NEVER KILL THE DOG.