SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Searching for a potential resource for her Sexuality in Film course, Dr. Julie Sexeny, coordinator of the Film and Digital Media Program at Wofford College, struggled to find an appropriate film dealing with the problem of campus assault to screen for her students. This motivated her to write her own screenplay, which now may be headed to the screen itself.
Not many films depict sexual assault on college campuses, especially in a respectful way, says Sexeny, an associate professor of English. The 2015 documentary “The Hunting Ground” is one film that does portray campus sexual assault, but it feeds the stereotype of the “dangerous black male,” she says.
Sexeny used her sabbatical from the fall 2018 semester through the spring 2019 semester to write two screenplays, including “20 Minutes of Action,” which has garnered her recognition as a finalist in the Dramas and Family category of the Creative World Award Screenwriting Competition, one of the top international screenwriting competitions. Earning a Creative World Award opens doors for screenwriters, giving them feedback, exposure and credibility needed to bring their projects to the screen.
Sexeny’s screenplay grapples with the issue of sexual assault on college campus, tackling the complex and shifting perceptions of victims and perpetrators. By focusing the story on the relationship between a brother and a sister, the film also explores the devastating impact that sexual assault has on a family.
Writing “20 Minutes of Action” has given Sexeny a valuable film reference for her film theory courses, she says, but more importantly, it has changed her perspective on teaching. “My research of sexual assault on campus has given me a better understanding of its reality as well as its depictions, which I can use in my courses.”
After a year of writing screenplays, Sexeny wants to challenge her students as well as offer them compassion. “I invite students to address difficult topics,” she says, adding that she believes the process of working with a tough subject is one way her students can grow as screenwriters and as people.
Also during her sabbatical, spent in New York City, where she had been a graduate student at Columbia University, Sexeny wrote a draft for an adaptation of award-winning author Vivian Gornick’s memoir “Fierce Attachments.”
Sexeny proposed the idea of an adaptation of the memoir, one of her favorites, to Gornick, who she had met through friends when she was a graduate student. Now, Sexeny is revising a second draft of the “Fierce Attachments” adaptation after several meetings with Gornick.
“Fierce Attachments” recently was selected by The New York Times’ book critics as the #1 Best Memoir in the Last 50 Years and is lauded as a feminist work.