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‘So there was this guy masturbating on the bus…’ Why women are talking about dealing with bad dudes for a new TVNZ series

Alex Casey talks to Maha Albadrawi and Lucy Zee about bringing New Zealand women’s stories to life in So This Happened

Every woman has at least one of those stories. Like gremlins, they often creep out at night in small circles over wine and cheese, more rarely over hushed coffees by daylight. Sometimes they are uproariously weird and funny, other times they need whatever the verbal equivalent of a trigger warning is and end in hugs and tears. We women share them in secret like trading cards, collecting and swapping in the hopes of somehow getting the ‘full set’ of how to cope with these experiences.

So This Happened, a new TVNZ original webseries, tries to set these same gremlins free by breathing life into New Zealand women’s stories of harassment. The brainchild of TVNZ creative producer Lucy Zee and marketing co-ordinator Maha Albadrawi, the two minute stories use animation to illustrate women’s first person experiences from casual racism to a rogue penis in public. They are honest, funny, frank and I breathed a sigh of relief to find out that I am far from the only person who has fallen prey to a rogue bus masturbator.

I met up with Lucy and Maha to talk about the project over wine in a little circle of our own. Here’s what we got through before things descended into looking at photos of Adam Driver and relishing in how funny White Chicks still is (do not @ any of us).

Why do you think women need to keep sharing these kinds of experiences?

Maha Albadrawi: When you’re younger you just don’t have the ability to make those kinds of judgements yet you assume all adults are good. It’s not till late that you realise, ‘oh, that was not appropriate’. You can’t go back in time to punch someone, but you want to.

Lucy Zee: When we were younger, talking about sexual harassment wasn’t as easily accessible. So all this random stuff happens, you either don’t realise it’s happening or you don’t have any of the tools to deal with it.

MA: For me, I wasn’t actually touched or attacked so I didn’t know what to say or who to tell. I had an instance once where I was locked inside a building at uni late at night. The security guard came down and let me out, but then he tried to kiss me as I was leaving. I pushed him off and ran off. Afterwards, I didn’t know who to tell and I also thought I would be the one to get in trouble because I was there late. I wasn’t equipped at all.

So when did the inspiration strike to record these stories and get them illustrated?

MA: I was in the kitchen with a bunch of women and we started talking about times we’d been sexually harassed without even realising it. I had a story and the other girl had a story and everyone in the circle had a story. We went around and around and I realised that every woman I know has at least 10 of these stories.

I thought there was something in that idea of sharing these stories, so I ran to our creative director Amy Mills and straightaway she had a story of her own of something similar she’d experienced. I thought it would be interesting to animate these stories in 2D and she loved it.

LZ: Maha brought it up in a meeting and got me on board straight away. The reason I wanted to be attached is because stuff happens all the time, but you tell your guy friends and they don’t believe you.

MA: People either don’t believe you or get uncomfortable and put their guard up when, actually, the dialogue should be as open as if you were having a glass of wine in the kitchen.

LZ: The best part is, when we talk about the project, everyone wants to contribute. That’s the best part for me, that more people want to talk. I want more people to realise this stuff happens everywhere, and the more we talk about it the more that people and I mean guys here will stop doing it and start calling it out.

On that note, how have men been reacting to the series?

LZ: A few of my flatmates watched it and were like ‘oh, shit, does this actually happen?’ They couldn’t believe it had actually happened, and they are aware now. I want men to think about what they would do if they saw something like that happen.

How did you balance more serious stories with the light-heartedness of animation?

LZ: We definitely didn’t want it to be like a serious wanky art film. I wanted to be able to tell these stories in a very palatable way, and there’s a fine line between making fun of it and also making it light enough for someone who isn’t as open-minded to accept it. We couldn’t think of a better way to do that than through animation. People are really scared to be confronted by a victim, I think.

MH: Yeah, we just wanted to get the stories and get it out there. Make it palatable, accessible and shareable.

LZ: For me, two minutes is long enough. I mean, two minutes is like a song. A good song should be under two minutes, I don’t want any ‘Enter Sandman’ bullshit.

What about the animation styles, how did you get each episode to look so distinctive?

LZ: I was adamant that I wanted women and non-binary people to animate the stories. Two of our animators are genderqueer, we wanted to see if we could get a full animation team of non straight white men. We could! My younger sister is in animation, and she always talks about how all the guys would get jobs before them. [The So This Happened animators] did such a good job, I also really wanted them to get TVNZ on their CV. Once you have that reference, it looks so good.

MH: It was a total collaboration – we knew nothing about animation or how long it would take. We worked closely with them, and it was all about being open and learning from each other. It’s also bringing in some freshness to TVNZ. Our animators were able to choose the stories they felt the most connected to, and however best they wanted to express it. We gave them three weeks to do it and they came back in two.

How did you go about sourcing the stories?

LZ: With the first round, we used stories that we already knew. When the series is released, we want to source stories from people across New Zealand. We’re ready to hear more because we are trying to create a dialogue. Share your stories with us.

MH: We tried to make it as comfortable as possible for the women, putting a little room together with a couch and just four or five of us girls. The thing is that, unfortunately, there’s no shortage of these stories. The only way to address it is to address it, and educate men that this happens.

What would you hope women in similar situations take away from So This Happened?

MH: There’s no toolkit for the microaggressions we have to deal with, but I hope women realise that they shouldn’t be shamed or demonized for what happens to them.

LZ: Yeah. What happened to you was real. What you felt was real. Also, we have unlimited internet now, we should have ways to deal with everyday sexism and racism. We put a man on the moon, you know? It’s time.


Click here to watch So This Happened on TVNZ OnDemand

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