Documentary filmmaker Darryl Roberts hedges a bit when asked if he’s a feminist.
If he were a girl, it wouldn’t seem a far leap to make. He’s made three movies about America’s obsession with beauty and how it hurts girls; he helped create an anti-bullying program available in 10,000 schools, and he’s largely behind the protests that moved Abercrombie & Fitch to change its hypersexual ads. This past week he spoke out on how trendy celebrities have made “being sexy” a commodity — the Beyonces, Rihannas and Kim Kardashians of the world. He has a phrase to describe this problem: “Girls seem to have two choices — being sexy or being invisible.”
Roberts is the brains behind “America the Beautiful 3: The Sexualization of Our Youth,” a look at the oversexualization of kids in the United States as seen through the lens of pint-size beauty pageants, sexy fast food ads and several young men and women who expose what happens when sex is constantly consumed but isn’t discussed in any meaningful way. Cue the nude Kim K images that sought to “break the Internet” when released last week.
“A lot of people don’t know the history behind these images,” says Roberts, a Chicagoan who lives in Wicker Park but was raised in the now-demolished- Stateway Gardens and in Englewood. He graduated from Lindblom High School with Cheryl Burton and is a former entertainment reporter, so he understands how media affects pop culture.
People see the images as a new shocking revelation,” he said, but they’re not. As seen in his documentary, the history of objectification of women goes back years, if not centuries. But rather than complain about how it impacts boys and girls, Roberts talked to experts and shepherded his own interns through the process of protesting Abercrombie’s catalog ads, which often showed very young people in poses that made many people uncomfortable. One intern, Cali Linstrom also complained about how the company’s leadership seemed to “bully” kids by stating that its clothing was really only for the cool kids.
Yes, says Roberts, this type of activism can be a man’s work too. It takes all kinds to create change.
“There are a lot of women’s organizations that have told me that I’m a feminist,” he says. “I am an activist for women’s causes 100 percent. I guess yeah, I’ve been adopted as such.”
He wins awards and gets results. Last month, Abercrombie & Fitch completed an anti-bullying campaign as a response to the protests. The campaign did not travel to Lindblom because, it would seem, the company doesn’t think students there are customers.
That said, Roberts’ work is not over. He wants teens to break the rules of homogeneity that spawn bullying and the other socially acceptable mores that use sex as a popularity tool. Staying true to oneself might just be the cure, he says.
Learn more about Darryl Roberts’ anti-bullying organization, Are You an Ally?
Women Everywhere are talking about that sexual assault in the movie “Malificent”
“We all have a voice to use, and you have to use it,” he says. “Things are getting out of hand, so it’s no longer OK to be quiet. When I was 8, I was a troublemaker. I’m fired up now.”
As for what’s in his future, after finishing media interviews and completing the film circuit, he’s going to lighten things up a bit and return to his roots of writing romantic comedies. He plans to get fellow Chicagoan Vince Vaughn to star.
“I’ll go up to his house and deliver the script and he’ll say no,” Roberts says, chuckling. “Then I’ll go do some local casting.”