Exclusive Interview with Darryl Roberts for ‘America the Beautiful 3: The Sexualization of Our Youth’
There are so many sexual images that the youth are bombarded with nowadays. With all these influences, it’s drastically changing America right now.
Documentary filmmaker Darryl Roberts continued his well-known series with “America the Beautiful 3: The Sexualization of Our Youth” by looking at the problems in our young society today.
Here’s the synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old pop stars dance provocatively in sexy Catholic schoolgirl outfits on stage, twelve-year-old models lounge in revealing outfits on the pages of magazines, four-year-olds in bikinis parade in beauty pageants on national television. With a modern American culture that's overflowing with overtly sexual images of children, what is the price we're paying?
Award-winning director Darryl Roberts explores the treacherous effects this has on not just children, but society as a whole. The assault of images portraying the perfect "sexy" body is inescapable and inappropriate, contributing to a national physical and mental health crisis. America the Beautiful 3 also looks at how boys, some as young as eleven-years-old, are now raised in a culture of porn, making it increasingly difficult for them to conceptualize healthy relationships and sexuality.
The assault of images portraying the perfect "sexy" body is inescapable and inappropriate, contributing to a national physical and mental health crisis. According to the American Psychological Association, the impact this has on girls (and women of all ages) ranges from eating disorders to low self-esteem and body image insecurities. America the Beautiful 3 also looks at how boys, some as young as eleven-years-old, are now raised in a culture of porn, making it increasingly difficult for them to conceptualize healthy relationships and sexuality.
Latino-Review had an exclusive interview last week to speak with Darryl Roberts about the topics in his documentary. We discussed the power of media, celebrities and other factors that influence the young society. In addition, he provided more details about his participation in the campaign to change Abercrombie & Fitch.
“America the Beautiful 3: The Sexualization of Our Youth” is currently playing in select theaters.
Read the interview below.
Latino-Review: Let’s talk about this new documentary of yours. How did you come up with the topic this time around for your series “America the Beautiful?”
Darryl Roberts: It started when I saw this report from the American Psychological Association called, “The Sexualization of Girls.” In the report, it claimed that the levels of sexualized advertising had created a mental health illness amongst young girls. I get the advertising, but how can you say it is a mental health issue?
I did my own research from there and seeing how bad it was. So while I was doing my research, this guy on this college campus in Ohio put out a flyer called, “Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape.” He put them in bathrooms all over campus. After I saw that, I agreed with the American Psychological Association’s statement that the subject was really bad and then I knew I wanted to do a film on that topic.
Latino-Review: Regarding that flyer, wasn’t that a joke or was that actually serious? Did you ever discover that?
Darryl Roberts: I don’t know the guy personally who did it. So I won’t quote his intentions, but I will say this—serious or a joke—that’s not something you would post around campus. The way women’s organizations on that campus took it was that they didn’t take it as a joke. It had major ramifications and the coverage was nationwide by the press with disciplinary action from the school. On whether he took it as a joke or not—it wasn’t taken as one.
Latino-Review: Absolutely. On the overall scheme of the sexualization in America, what do you think is the primary problem that is causing all this? You did cover several topics ad causes in the documentary.
Darryl Roberts: Right. I did cover a lot of topics in the film. I didn’t want to say it’s just advertising. I realized that it’s way too simple and it’s more pervasive than that. The problem really is that it became a lot of things. Pop culture had devalued aging.
Thirty years ago when we was growing up, we used to revere our grandparents as really wised and to respect their wisdom and lives. Now due to pop culture, when you age and become older, you are seen as being old. Our youth today don’t revere [the elders] like they used to. What that does, it creates a climate where a lot of parents aren’t really parents anymore. They are trying to be the child’s friend. They would like dress in the youth’s clothes; listen to their music; or even Facebook with them. Now they won’t stand up and really parent their child.
The way on how that comes into play today, the 1977 ruling with Ronald Reagan, now advertisers can bypass the parent and advertise directly to children. So with the content of television shows, the advertisers are running rampant with sexualizations to children. A great majority of parents, not all, would try to be the child’s friend by not parenting.
Even the celebrities bought into this culture realize in order to be famous and get attention on the red carpet—they would have to twerk, to wear no clothes and to expose body parts. It creates this whole culture of sexualization. It’s really everywhere. There’s no one fault to it. Everybody’s involved with it.
Latino-Review: You’ve identified plenty of problems in our culture, but it wasn’t clear on what exactly the solution was? How do you expect us to get out of this?
Darryl Roberts: The overall message to this film was very subtle. There was one more scene in the film that really made the point, but really had to cut that scene. On what the scene was with a fourteen-year-old girl named Julie Bloom led a protest against Seventeen Magazine for their photoshopping. It made national news. Seventeen Magazine later agreed not to photoshop their ads anymore. Take that story and mix in with the Cali’s story on the protest against Abercrombie & Fitch—the message is clear. I helped her in the film to protest against Abercrombie & Fitch. It ended up with this anti-bullying campaign. Even with this year, they’re making [the anti-bullying campaign] even bigger by going to over 10,000 high schools. There’s seventy percent less sexualization in their ads. They’re now fully committed and on board to be a fully socially responsible company.
So if you look at Cali and Julia on what that message is—if we as parents start parenting our kids oppose to befriending them, they can do things that are even more phenomenal. They have to start by stepping in and provide guidance and protect our children. Even with Barack [Obama] speech at the beginning of the film, he talked about the lack of us protecting our children.
What I want to do with this film is to [someone influence] a certain change. I’ve already seen this already on a small scale at a New York premiere this month, which was attended by many teenagers and their parents. One, in particular, was this plus-size model named Annie [was at the premiere]. She is one of the most famous plus-size model in the world and her thirteen-year-old daughter was with her. After the movie, they both were crying and hugged each other. The daughter said to the mom was, “We have to talk.”
So what the film did was to provide an entrée to have these really uncomfortable conversations that they wouldn’t really normally have. It allows the daughter to explain to the mom the culture she is living in. I want to bond parents and kids in this protective type role. I think that is the solution.
Advertisers will keep using sexualized images. Celebrities will keep doing on what they’re doing. At the level on how we parent children, that’s where I have the most hope.
Latino-Review: Basically, the true underlying message is ultimately it will be the job of the parents and not necessarily the media, technology and advertisers and so on.
Darryl Roberts: Yes. They make billions of dollars in sexualized advertising. They won’t stop. There’s no way they will stop making billions of dollars. So it’s on how the parents related to their children. And it’s not only the parents, but the entire community. It’s not only your child, but a child down the street or at school. We need to step in and protect our children. By doing that, the child’s dependency will slowly change. Remember that technology is everywhere with television, phones and games. They see it everywhere.
Some of them will go on this media diet and stop digesting these images own their own. They will start eroding the process from there. From there, you would never know. Dove built an entire campaign off of celebrating and respecting the women and children in a positive way.
Latino-Review: One of the things I’ve found remarkable in your film was the Abercrombie & Fitch segment, which did get national attention. You were being almost on the forefront of that.
Darryl Roberts: Yes, that was a protest from Cali. I do a thing called the “Teen Empowerment Series.” With Cali [Lindstron] and Caitlyn in the film, two of my pupils at the time, I teach them to have a voice for young girls.
So when we did that protest, “Good Morning America” did cover it along with other networks. It was national news to the point [Abercrombie & Fitch] invited us to come by to speak with them. It was back in May of 2013. From then to now, I’ve witnessed with this company is with a firm commitment [to change] and they held to it. They stopped the sexualizing kids with those ads and implementing a positive program to teens. They did this with the anti-bullying campaign.
You’re right. I was right there to witness it. A company like Abercrombie & Fitch back in the 90s was very reckless with their sexualization. So if a company like this can turn around and go with “You know what? We have to be socially responsible. We’re not going to do sexualized advertising anymore.” If a company can do that, as a parent, we can surely step as well.
Latino-Review: Let me reveal this fact, from recent news, the company’s profits is down significantly. I don’t know if it’s related from recent changes from the company though. They did say a lot of young folks and others are turning away from their products. I’m not sure if it’s due to less sexualization. Do you think it’s unrelated?
Darryl Roberts: I wouldn’t say it’s due to the less sexualization. It’s two things. Abercrombie & Fitch a few years ago did use sexualization to make them feel really cool, hip and popular. But, their clothes were so expensive. A lot of kids couldn’t afford it. Their parents would buy it, but complain about the sexualization to the kids.
CEO Mike Jeffries made that statement, which was seven years ago but recently came out, that the clothes are for the cool kids and popular kids that you’ve read about in the news. That just broke the camel’s back. I knew a lot of people who were just so upset all over the country.
So if you followed their stock then—you’ll notice it started dropping from there. Like I said before, there was a backlash due to his national comments with the protests. But, now, they are rebuilding. They’re rebuilding in a socially responsible way. No more sexualization. Ultimately, I believe that America is ready for it and they’ll benefit from not having the shock value as a company.
Latino-Review: There is a stark difference on how young men and young women view sexuality. The film did focus a lot on women trying appearing to be beautiful. On the men’s side, the film seems to be targeting porn as the influence.
Darryl Roberts: Porn, yes, is the influence for men. First of all, the major demographic of who watches porn online are boys from the ages of eleven to seventeen. And if we take the smaller group of that from eleven to thirteen [years], they form their views on what sex should be like from watching porn. It affects the young boys emotionally. Even one talked about it in the film that he couldn’t be satisfied with a woman with erections. But once he got off porn, then he had normal relationships with women.
Porn created unrealistic expectations on men and what they should have from girls. So [porn] is certainly a factor.
Latino-Review: One of the things I’ll bring up, and it was mentioned in the film, in comparisons to Europe was that their society and outlook is a lot different from America. We all know Europe tends to be a lot more liberal and open with nude beaches, naked commercials and even with porn. Is it better to be more opened or is it better to be more closed?
Darryl Roberts: That’s a good point. To be more specific, I didn’t really address that in the film. I did compare it with those countries, in which their teen pregnancies [are lower there than America]. You’re absolutely right—we’re the exact opposite of Europe.
Europe is very opened towards sexuality, in which we’re very closed about it. But, Europe is very closed with violence and that we’re opened to violence. That is a good question. People have said that if we’re not so uptight about sex—we wouldn’t have the problems we have with our teens. I’m not sure.
Look at teen pregnancies, for example, it seems like we’re not teaching our kids to be responsible. Majority of those teen pregnancies come from the lack of using contraceptives. So is the problem with our closed sexual society or due to the lack of education? They may go hand in hand actually.
Latino-Review: Studies like this are still up in the air. I know in recent news—studies shown that more conservative red states view porn than more liberal states in America.
Darryl Roberts: I could believe that. USA Today a few months ago reported about these guys busted up in this porn ring. These are guys who you would not expect to be part of this porn ring. You’ll have to look at the Catholic Church and with young boys. It’s a problem.
However, the real problem is not really viewing porn. I viewed porn as a teenager and with everybody else at my age. Here’s the difference: the difference is what was portrayed [back then] made want to do is kiss a girl to have sex. I couldn’t wait to get my first girlfriend to have sex. Porn was a little more innocent. Back then, to get it, I would have to sneak one from my father’s bedroom. It was Playboy and it wasn’t really accessible. It wasn’t getting the same bombardment like they do today.
Now you can get it on a cell phone at twelve-years-old or on the Internet. But, the way women are objectified and the violence towards them in porn today is unlike the porn thirty years ago. So it’s the frequency and the further objectification of women became the problem for today. You can make it the case with that porn had been around forever.
Latino-Review: I know this is your third film in the series. How did you come up with the entire series? What’s the overall theme with it?
Darryl Roberts: The first one dealt with the obsession with beauty. The second one looked into the body mass index and as the proxy for health. Overall, it’s more of a beauty, health and sex series. I look at what teenagers primarily going through right now. I come up with socially relevant topics that affect teens to make them more aware and to help them. Teens are our future and that’s where we should be putting our effort into. They’ll be running this country in thirty or forty years from now.
Latino-Review: Is “America the Beautiful 3” going to be the last film of the series or do you plan for more?
Darryl Roberts: “America the Beautiful 3” was supposed to be the last one. I’m getting a very strong feedback from this film. I won’t close the door. I do know the next film I make will be a romantic comedy. For now, I don’t know if I’ll come back to this or not. If I do see a subject matter that I’m compelled to explore, then sure—I’ll be back.
Latino-Review: I thank you for this conversation. It’s very informative. I wish you good luck with the launch of “America the Beautiful 3.”
Darryl Roberts: Thank you very much, my friend.
“America the Beautiful 3: The Sexualization of Our Youth” is currently showing in select theaters.