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Emerald Fennell: It’s troubling jokes about rape culture have been ubiquitous

Laura Harding, PA Deputy Entertainment Editor
·3-min read

Bafta winner Emerald Fennell has said is it “troubling” that jokes about rape culture have been ubiquitous in popular entertainment.

The actress, best known for playing the young Camilla in The Crown, makes her directorial debut with Promising Young Woman, which stars Carey Mulligan as a woman whose life has been derailed by the rape of her best friend.

She processes her rage and trauma by feigning black-out inebriation and baiting men (played by classic TV nice guys, such as The OC’s Adam Brody and Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse) into taking advantage of her, before revealing she is stone cold sober.

The movie was named outstanding British film at the Baftas on Sunday, where Fennell also won the best original screenplay prize.

Fennell, who previously worked on the second season of Killing Eve, said many of the tropes of the scenes will seem familiar to many women and she told the PA news agency: “That is what is so fascinating about this stuff and so troubling about it is it was and remains completely commonplace.

“It was important right from the get go writing it that there is nothing in this movie that hasn’t been played for gags in quite recent Hollywood comedy movies or network comedy TV series or songs.

Carey Mulligan as Cassie (Focus Features)
Carey Mulligan as Cassie (Focus Features)

“The culture that we grew up in and that so many people grew up in made a joke of getting girls drunk and taking them home, girls waking up not knowing who was next to them and going on a walk of shame.

“This stuff was just normal and so it was very interesting and exciting and also terrible to then start to examine it.”

Mulligan added: “It felt like a different lens through which we have seen so many stories before and I just thought it was such a unique way of looking at this.

“I do think the more we talk about things like this, there can be somewhat of a fatigue with difficult things.

“I think finding a new way to talk about them, a new way to raise questions – not that that is the absolute intent of this film, but it does do that – it does bring that to a wider audience than perhaps a different version of this film might have.”

Emerald Fennell on set with Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham (Merie Weismiller Wallace/Focus Features)
Emerald Fennell on set with Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham (Merie Weismiller Wallace/Focus Features)

Fennell said she also hoped to use the pastel, Instagram-style aesthetics of the film to lure audiences into a fall sense of security.

She said: “It was important that this is a film about appearances being deceiving, whether it’s the kind of men we like and have crushes on ending up doing bad things, or whether it’s Cassie dressing like a beautiful candyfloss.

“It’s important that the movie is just as alluring and enticing as all of these things are and then it’s got a slightly troubling centre maybe.

“But you can only be funny up to a point when it comes to this stuff because it’s not funny and the stakes are very very high so I think it’s a delicate balance of making it an incredibly pleasurable movie and one that people enjoy, but also being honest about what we are talking about.”

Promising Young Woman is available on Sky Cinema and Now from April 16.