Because of singer Chris Brown's assault of his pop star girlfriend Rihanna, the topic of domestic violence has gotten a fair amount of attention in the American media recently, from celebrity magazine speculation about the couple's current status to serious reports of teen girls "blaming the victim" in the case. So I was interested to see the British press this week focus on a new public service campaign against domestic violence, featuring an ad in which actress Keira Knightley is brutally beaten.
At first I wasn't quite sure what to make of this video. Knightley is a megastar in England. Here she is depicted coming off a set, driving home, and being confronted by an angry, jealous, possessive boyfriend. Her "character" is an actress, and the boyfriend seems to be complaining about her shooting a love scene with another man. She responds, "It's my job." But as the camera pans out, we see that Knightley is still, in fact, on a movie set, albeit an empty one. She pleads, as if to a director, that she "didn't agree" to the violent treatment. What is happening here? Are we supposed to believe we are seeing an actress beaten by her costar? Or a woman by her lover? Or does it not matter, just as long as Knightley is willing to show that any woman, no matter how beautiful or successful, can be a victim of violence?
The lack of a clear "reality" in the ad bothers me. But I still think it is a very positive development. I don't think there has ever been an American celebrity as high-profile as Knightley who was willing to portray themselves as a victim in a domestic violence campaign. Here's a recent American anti-domestic violence PSA. It's not nearly as powerful as the British ad.
cross-posted at TAPPED