By Lucy Bowers
With its recent release on Netflix, “Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution” is a documentary uncovering the reality of casual sex culture among college students in America. Executive producer and Baylor professor, Sarah-Jane Murray, weighs in about the film.
What was your role in the making of this film?
“I started out working with [director] Benji [Nolot] when we met years ago, at a screenwriting workshop in California. Benji brought me in before he started filming what was to become “Liberated” to do a story workshop with the team. From there, I got involved as a story consultant, and as an associate producer. It was later on in the process that because I had been so involved and able to support the film in terms of helping to connect it to various spaces I took on the role of executive producer as well. So I’ve done everything from discussing some of the story questions with the team, to going in and meeting with them during the edit, and to helping distribute the film, which obviously is a really important process for all of us. Distribution is key in terms of getting it in front of the target audience, which is young people.”
The filmmaking organization, Exodus Cry, is Christian. Liberated does not come across as a typical Christian film, which might introduce a faith conversation. Why did you decide to do this?
“Our goal is not to put Biblical passages or quotes front and center. Some of us have to go out and be salt and light in mainstream culture. And the reality in the media today, if you look at things like “Game of Thrones” and all these shows that have great stories, they also are presented in a way that is very hyper-sexualized. Especially the hyper-sexualization of women, and the very “macho” role that men play. A vast majority of the eighteen-thirty year-old audience is completely exposed inadvertently to all this kind of stuff all the time. They [are] not thinking about how it affects and shapes our own vision of the world, or how we interact as men and women. The hyper-sexualization of our culture is so prevalent, its important for us to think about how it shapes and influences our behavior. And to be “salt and light” in culture, sometimes that just means taking on tough topics.
Augustine said it best that, “any truth in the world is God’s truth.” So if we can speak into culture and make people think “maybe I want to adopt a more positive way of looking at morality and living and sexuality,” then we are shifting the needle towards a world that is more fulfilled, more holistic. That happens to suit the personal beliefs that everybody on the filmmaking team shares.”
What drove the team to create this film?
“Liberated” was never intended to be a film. The whole [original] film was gonna go all the way from a commodification of sexuality in our culture, through trafficking and porn, all the way through why people buy it. The beach component was gonna be the archival footage, where one of the aspects this happens is through “party culture”. I think a lot has changed even since I was in college, and that’s what’s really challenging for a lot of older viewers to understand. This is not an uncommon thing in today’s world. I lament that its a common thing, but a lot of students who have seen the film during the premiers or other focus groups comment: “I’m so glad we can talk about this and how I feel the pressures to conform to this culture that I can’t talk about.” And to me, that was the big shift. That all happened because the team went down to the beach. Benji and his male camera crew came back with some pretty shocking realizations like, “Woah. There’s more going on here than we thought.”
The film does not shy away from graphic content. Did anything in the film shock you in that sense?
“Was it easy to make? Absolutely not. Did we remove shocking content? Absolutely. Words fail to express how surprised I was by some of the things that the camera was privy to. But I think that the filmmaking team almost felt a duty to show enough that would make people say, “we can’t do this anymore.” People sometimes have to see the negative image, who they don’t want to be, in order to shift their behavior. We are all passionate about not only ending trafficking, but ending the pornographic hold on our culture and this very narrow, defining script about what it means to be a human being.”
There are Instagram accounts that are portraying this image of casual sex that makes it seem so normal.
“It’s a reality. I can try to steer students away from that reality all I want, its just the media is gonna win that battle. It’s everywhere. One of the best ways, we thought, to try to steer people away from viewing that as a model for living their lives is to get in to the media. The fact that it’s on Netflix is so important to us, because it’s the mainstream media. We are hoping that it provides an antidote for many young people who will watch the film and become critical thinkers.
We live in a world where people wear very scant bikinis just to sell us burgers. And whether we like that or not, we are constantly surrounded by those images. We may be guarding our eyes, but we cannot escape them in culture. We might not be conscious of it, but when we pass a billboard, look at a magazine or turn on the TV, we are being primed to that kind of imagery. That commodifies a human being. It makes them an object. And as soon as we objectify someone, it’s a lot easier disrespect them. Or to not see them for the extraordinary creation that they are.”
Keeping in mind the Baylor sexual harassment scandal, what do you hope the film will convey to the Baylor audience?
“I have had many interesting conversations with students who have seen the film or the trailer. They came forward to me and wanted to have conversations because they felt like they’d been participating in some way to that kind of culture. I’m really inspired by their courage to come speak to me about that. It’s so easy to view this as a sensationalized topic. I don’t think that has to be the case. I am so confident that Baylor’s Christian identity, as a university seeking truth, I just feel like it’s a hard conversation wherever you have it.
But the unique thing we have at Baylor that wouldn’t necessarily be at a secular location, is the ability to throw our values out on the table. We can throw down on our values and say, “come on.” We have this model in scripture for a fulfilling relationship. We should be the first and the foremost to not embrace this cultural paradigm. And if anyone is gonna be “salt and light”, I like to hope that Baylor students will be that to their generation by modeling a countercultural narrative, saying that living our life in integrity does not mean that they have to comply to the pressures of secular society or the media. I’m hopeful that over time, as people engage with the conversation starter, that Baylor students can lead the charge in speaking to Generation Z. And saying, “I choose to live my life differently. And it’s equally cool. And, in fact, it’s even more cool. Here’s why.” I believe Baylor students could become one of the guiding pioneer forces in culture to shift this narrative if they so chose. So can other Christian students across the country.”