White Ribbon’s searing portrayal of domestic violence during Covid

Who: Violence prevention organization White Ribbon Canada, with Bensimon Byrne, OneMethod, Narrative for PR, Untitled Films (directed by Hubert Davis), Rooster Post, Berkeley Inc. for music and sound, Fort York VFX for post and, AlterEgo.

What: “Day After Day,” a four-minute and 25 second PSA speaking directly to men potentially prone to domestic violence in response to the stress brought about by the pandemic. It was directed by Canadian Hubert Davis, an Oscar and Emmy nominated filmmaker who was also behind White Ribbon’s powerful 2019 short film, “Boys Don’t Cry.”

The campaign was developed with what White Ribbon’s executive director, Humberto Carolo, described as “significant” pro bono support from various agency partners, supported by a roughly $500,000 grant from Women and Gender Equality Canada for a broader 18-month program that also includes components like youth outreach.

When & Where: The video debuted on June 14, running on a dedicated White Ribbon website, with a cutdown version running on donated media. White Ribbon Canada has also enlisted former NHL player Georges Laraque, who has spoken out against domestic violence in the past, to serve as a media spokesperson.

Why: Domestic violence has been rising during the pandemic, with Carolo describing it as “a pandemic within a pandemic.” According to Statistics Canada data, calls to police about domestic disputes increased 8.2% between March and October 2020, as people endured prolonged stay-at-home orders. And both B.C.’s Battered Women’s Support Services and Ontario’s Assaulted Women’s Helpline reported a 400% increase in calls during the early days of the pandemic.

The goal of the film is to encourage men to consider their actions and behaviour and reach out to organizations such as White Ribbon for help rather than keep their anger bottled up inside, said Carolo. “So often men are taught to toughen up, keep going at all costs, and that reaching out for help is a sign of weakness,” he said. “A lot of men end up internalizing the stress they’re experiencing, and closing down in terms of being able to speak about their emotions and share them with those around them, in particular their partner.”

How: The film tells the story of a couple with a young child stuck at home during lockdown. It’s accompanied by a voiceover delivered from the perspective of both the man and woman. Starting from the man’s perspective, it begins with relatively benign scenes of domestic life, undercut by a growing sense of dread. The tension keeps building as the film progresses, with the man yelling and increasingly agitated.

“Imagine you are trapped,” says the man in the voiceover that opens the spot. “Day after day. No way out. No release. No words. Day after day. Just a growing sense of worthlessness. An all-consuming shame. Day after day.” The spot then cuts to the woman’s perspective, and she repeats the same script except the words take on new meaning as the viewer sees how the same moments actually reveal escalating verbal and physical abuse.

The woman finally attempts to leave the home in the middle of the night, only to abandon her plan when the man appears on the porch. It features an ambiguous ending, with the woman returning to the home accompanied by the super “A man who feels alone in his violent behaviours never is.”

Carolo said the super has a double meaning: a man’s actions directly impact both his partner and child(ren), but also that there are organizations like White Ribbon that can provide assistance and help them start to address the issues causing them to resort to violence.

The decision to go with such a long video: “When I first saw the draft I thought ‘Wow, this is long.’ We know that the impact [of abuse] is so much higher on women and children, and we really needed to have sufficient time to show that to the audience,” said Carolo.

“You really see it happening in a crescendo kind of way. When you think about domestic violence we often go to physical violence, but this film shows that there are lots of other kinds of violence: verbal, emotional and physical. It’s really important to show the psychologic and emotional violence so that people see that the impact on the family is really terrible.”

And we quote: “For too many women, stay-at-home orders during the pandemic have meant being trapped inside with abusive partners. By mirroring the dialogue of the two partners, we show how the unique stresses of the pandemic are causing some men to become abusive—but how that abuse is infinitely more damaging for those who experience it.” —director Hubert Davis

Chris Powell