***TRIGGER WARNING: SHOOTINGS/SCHOOL SHOOTINGS/ISLA VISTA MASSACRE***
For many, May 23rd 2014 is a date they will remember for the rest of their lives. Six UC Santa Barbara students were murdered, and 14 were injured when a young man by the name of Elliot Rodgers went on a killing spree around their campus. Rodgers had previously written a sort of manifesto in which he “expressed resentment towards women for spurning him” by choosing “frat boys” to date instead of him. His haunting video posted before the massacre is still found on the internet for anyone who can stomach watching it the whole way through (I, personally, could not).
A horror film was scheduled for release merely 18 months after the tragedy by Berger Bros Entertainment with the direction of Shaun Hart. The film is a feature length movie created for entertainment purposes. It is not a documentary spreading awareness of campus safety like the film following the Virginia Tech massacre. The trailer for the film was released in early August of this year with the expectation of release around October. The slogan for the movie? “Monsters aren’t born, they are created”. I have attached the trailer above for anyone who wishes to see it themselves, but it is not easy to sit through, especially if you have a personal connection to the tragedy.
The trailer release faced immediate backlash by mourning students and activists. A change.org petition was created to halt the release of the movie claiming that it “intentionally seeks to commoditize the death of six beloved students, and makes light of the tragedy faced by the entire Isla Vista/UCSB community. “Del Playa” not only justifies the motives behind the Isla Vista gunman, but also glorifies his actions”. The murderer in the movie was shown to have a childhood past tainted with abuse, bullying, and isolation, thus creating him into the monster he became. The film was labeled as insensitive and untimely. To date, the petition has 28,888 supporters and is not far from its 35,000 goal.
Shaun Hart soon responded to the movie’s opposition: “First and foremost, I would like to publicly apologize to everyone who has been offended in any way by our making of this film,” Hart wrote. “It was never our intent to monopolize on the tragic shootings in Isla Vista that took place last year. While I do admit there is the connection of Santa Barbara, this film is not about Elliot Rodger. The fictional character in the film is not meant to portray anyone in particular. It is meant to portray incidents that take place, not only in Santa Barbara, but across the country on a daily basis. Our intentions were not to make light of such a serious issue, but to engage our audience in an active discussion about bullying and violence.”
The problem with Hart’s response is that the movie in no way will inspire a positive, open discussion about bullying and violence. If anything, the movie portrays to its viewers that bullying someone could lead to them to “snapping” and murdering you, so watch out. There is no sensible person who will agree that this attitude creates a positive, open-minded discussion on the topic. The Del Playa film makes light of these tragedies that are becoming more and more common in real life. If Hart and Berger Bros really wanted to show that they stand with the victims and mourning of the Isla Vista massacre, maybe the film should have been created in a documentary-like style with funds being donated to relief efforts after the massacre. Instead, Shaun Hart and Berger Bros are capitalizing off of the death of six young students and the heartbreak of their friends and families.
This leads me to ponder a question I have asked many times on the Art Crime Archive: When does art cross the line into crime? When does art go “too far”—or does it go “too far”? And who is in charge of making those decisions?
Do the film makers of Del Playa get away with recreating the trauma of this tragedy for the sake of art? Or can people like who made the change.org petition really make a difference in stopping them? In my opinion they can, and they already have.
I strongly believe Berger Bros underestimated how negatively their movie would be received by their audiences. I am also baffled that they saw the movie as something that people would want to see to begin with. The Del Playa film was scheduled for and October 2015 release date. Now November 2015, I wonder if the backlash from the trailer release deterred the filmmakers from a formal release. If they are waiting for a better, less sensitive time then they should kiss their film goodbye.