"'Rough Night' makes light of an issue endemic within the sex worker community: that is, scores of us dying because non-sex workers just don't seem to understand that we are people," writes Kate Iselin.
By
Kate Iselin

17 Mar 2017 - 11:30 AM  UPDATED 17 Mar 2017 - 2:51 PM

Last week, we were treated to the release of the trailer for Rough Night, a female-led buddy comedy that sees Scarlett Johannson, Kate McKinnon, Illana Glazer, Zoe Kravitz, and Jillian Bell team up for a wild bachelorette weekend. The girls drink, go dancing, take photos with selfie sticks, and hire a stripper. Yay! And then they accidentally kill him. Not yay. And then, for reasons as-yet-unknown to the audience, they arrange his dead body in a sex swing before hanging him out of the sunroof of a Jeep, driving him shirtless through a busy street, and – I can't believe I'm about to write what I'm about to write – making jokes about his corpse's erection. Decidedly not yay. 

It's not difficult to work out what the brains behind Rough NightBroad City's Lucia Aniello among them - might've been thinking when they pitched the film. With 2016's Ghostbusters, which also starred McKinnon, being such a success, why not take another shot at the gender-swap trope and put a different group of women in a scenario that has, in the past, been mostly cast with men? Rough Night feels like a mash-up of The Hangover, Weekend at Bernie's, and Very Bad Things—a 1989 comedy in which a party of men kill and ultimately dismember a female sex worker in Las Vegas. I'm all for refreshing tired old comedy tropes by flipping genders, but Aniello and her cast are taking down no power structures by having women inflict the same violence upon a marginalised group in the same manner that men have been doing for years. A woman murdering a sex worker is no edgier or more subversive than  a man murdering a sex worker—even in a film, it's an unacceptably violent and dehumanising act, presented under the same banner of privileged feminism that shouts 'kill all men!' without giving thought to the real-world consequences.

Look, maybe I'm naïve for expecting more. Maybe I'm foolish for hoping that when we talk about feminism, it should be intersectional and sex worker-inclusive as a default. Maybe I've missed the joke, and I should just shut up and enjoy the film and settle for the crumbs of female representation film studios throw us once or twice a year. I could almost force myself to do this, if it weren’t for one particular scene in the film trailer that sent chills down my spine. In it, Illana Glazer bends down to the check on the man, who is lying motionless on the floor after being pushed through a television by Jillian Bell, who has overzealously leapt in to his lap. Glazer turns around and asks – screams – if anyone knows CPR. Full disclosure: I work in the sex industry. I have been in that situation before. I have given first aid to someone at work; I've stuck my fingers in to their mouth to clear their airway, I've frantically searched for a pulse, and I've watched blood pool in hands and feet and prayed that the ambulance would make it in time. Unlike Rough Night's girls, I didn't turn around and have a slice of pizza and a line of coke afterwards. I sat in the staff toilets and sobbed.  

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Rough Night makes light of an issue endemic within the sex worker community: that is, scores of us dying because non-sex workers just don't seem to understand that we are people. In the United States, where the film is set, the homicide rate for sex workers is 204 per 100,000 people. That's a big step up from taxi drivers, who have the next-most fatal job with a homicide rate of 8 deaths per 100,000. These statistics are inarguably tied to an entrenched attitude that says sex workers don't matter. That we're disposable, that our lives aren't important; and one of the biggest feeders of that attitude is the media. How can we ever possibly expect safety from a society that accepts our deaths as punchlines, plot devices, and gags? We can't.

An offensively hamfisted take on misandry, Rough Night is a disappointing attempt at comedy that assumes female moviegoers will be drawn in by loud music and bawdy comedy and won't stop to question the explicit violence onscreen. As women – and as sex workers – we deserve so, so much more.

Kate Iselin is a writer and sex worker. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Penthouse, and The Saturday Paper.