Tribeca Film Festival Review: ‘Netizens’

Carrie Goldberg, Anita Sarkeesian, Tina Reione, Cynthia Lowen, Netizens, Tribeca FF premiere, and Q and A

(L to R): Carrie Goldberg, Anita Sarkeesian, Tina Reine, Cynthia Lowen, premiere screening ‘Netizens,’ Tribeca FF Q & A, moderated by Lauren Duca (Carole Di Tosti)

Women’s place in the culture as second class citizens viewed as sex objects and predatorized has never been more apparent with the #MeToo movement. Of course Hollywood tradition, the film industry, television and corporate business are notorious for predation of women which appears under the guise of adoration of women. Men just can’t keep their hands away from nor keep their sexual organs outside of beautiful women. They can’t control themselves. What a canard! Nothing could be further from the truth. Any form of sexual predation, rape, abuse, harassment, violence, molestation is misogyny, not adoration. There are no sexual components that apply, though men almost universally characterize such behavior as sexual and not violence. The documentary film Netizens which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival, directed by Cynthia Lowen, identifies this canard, as it focuses on three women who have had to confront such abuse and its attendant misogyny online.

The battles of these women to gain justice with legal representation coincide with the #Me Too movement. Theirs has been a lonely and humiliating walk until justice arrived on their doorsteps. Various online Social Media habitats provide a way for Incells and others to band together in a cultish, vituperative fan club of twisted men, who, with anonymity and impunity, stalk, harass and insult women they deem  noxious and vulnerable. Such mentally disturbed guys with an axe to grind against females lurk behind a cyber avatar. Social media is largely un-policed by law enforcement. Nor do Social Media companies accept responsibility for such abuses which they dismiss. Law enforcement and Social Media companies are proportionately empowered by men. Conveniently due to gender bias, most do not perceive sexual harassment as a cyber crime. With regard to law enforcement, unless there is bodily harm and a name, cyber cretins easily remain beyond the justice system.

Carrie Goldberg, Netizens, Tribeca FF premiere and Q & A

Carrie Goldberg in ‘Netizens,,’ premiere screening Tribeca FF and Q & A (Carole Di Tosti)

Cynthia Lowen’s insightful documentary follows lawyer Carrie Goldberg’s frustrations and revelations about our justice system’s (during Obama, now it’s conceivably worse), ineffectuality when dealing with cyber harassment. In this era of Russian interference on Social Media and Facebook’s “unwitting” participation with Cambridge Analytica’s handing over of user information, the potential for abuse has skyrocketed even more. Though Lowen’s film does not delve into the 2016 election aftermath and the Russian hacking, the online abuse of individuals supporting Hillary/Obama against Trump has been legion. Thus, the Social Media landscape is ripe with rotten fruits from corrupted trees that need to be cut down or burned.

Lowen’s work intimates such cyber attacks and propaganda by focusing on the elements which allow individuals to abuse and stalk. The key is anonymity and/or the ease with which poseurs may create a fictitious identity and use it as a means to insult and character assassinate.

Netizens deals with the female/male dynamic. Through the testimony and comments of Carrie Goldberg, Tina Reine and  Anita Sarkeesian, their video interviews reveal an intense personal struggle with online bullies and predators. Through her interviews primarily with these women and others of similar experience, Lowen’s documentary creates a discussion forum for activism. These three represent what happens to thousands of women daily who are attacked and bullied publicly without adequate judicial recourse in the face of Social Media companies who dismiss their complaints or tell them to “log off.” Sadly, such harassment often spills into life, especially if the warped anonymous abuser projects all of their rage and mental illness onto their hapless targets.

Not only does Lowen include interviews with advocates, experts both male and female, she incisively indicates all the forms digital harassment and cyber violence take during her interviews. Her intake of comments by teenagers and the key subjects provide vital mentoring information for women young and old. Some cyber violence tactics include non-consensual pornography, revenge porn, duress rape, and privacy invasion. The documentary’s revelations coincide with countless stories of tween abuse where male teenagers for merriment put rape videos of alcohol comatose young girls online. One such case is documented in Roll Red Roll.

Anita Sarkeesian, Netizens, Tribeca FF and Q & A

Anita Sarkeesian in ‘Netizens,’ Tribeca FF premiere and Q & A (Carole Di Tosti)

The consequences are often horrendous. In the instance of those who intend to maintain their business careers, stalkers and harassers often spend hours conniving to destroy the individual and her career via Social Media using online character assassination. In the case of teens violated through bullying their character destroyed on Social Media via pictures and demeaning, denigrating insults, (though Lowen doesn’t deal with suicide per se), such cyber assaults may end up in teen suicide. Only because the women Lowen highlights sought out Goldberg’s legal representation, and in the case of Sarkeesian only because of her powerfully voiced feminist activism does the film have a more satisfying conclusion. Indeed, Reine, Goldberg, Sarkessian and others rely on their inner power to thrive and step above victimization.

However, others have not been as successful. And one reason this film is vital is to educate and inspire young women to empower themselves, speak up and express their voice refusing to back down when cyber attacked, bullied, or sexually cyber predatorized online.

Lowen shadows Lawyer Carrie Goldberg and the others via cinema vérité with superb edits to effect a fascinating and at times disturbing picture of the underbelly of cyber violence. Through interviews with Goldberg and others she dissects a justice system that largely refuses to acknowledge digital abuse as a prosecutable crime. Indeed, New York State is remiss and Goldberg points this out at a speaking engagement that Lowen captures in video clips. Lowen also follows Goldberg in discussion with various clients (a young women who remains anonymous) who seek relief from being terrorized online via their photos being used to strip them of dignity and sanctity as insult upon insult violates their privacy and peace.

Cynthia Lowen speaks at Tribeca FF Q & A after the screening of Netizens.  L to R:  Lauren Duca (un pictured moderator) Tina Reine, Carrie Goldberg, Cynthia Lowen

Lowen’s interviews and shadowing of celebrity Anita Sarkeesian, a media critic, feminist, blogger and activist are particularly enlightening. Sarkessian, an outspoken feminist has taken down the gaming culture and has been threatened, excoriated and vilified for it. Sarkessian reveals the typical day of threats she receives, including bomb threats and death threats. Sarkeesian, a Canadian American is the founder of Feminist Frequency, a website that hosts videos and commentary analyzing portrayals of women in in popular culture. She hit the mark and received some of the most vile cyber harassment with her video series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, which examines tropes in the depiction of female video game characters.

Anita Sarkeesian, Tribeca FF premiere screening ‘Netizens,’ Q & A

Sarkeesian’s impact may be gauged in that she needs an armed escort when she fulfills public speaking engagements. Interestingly, Lowen reveals the power of her message when she is surrounded by young women who recognize her as an influencer and want her autograph because they’ve been enlightened about the superficial and denigrating objectification of women in Video Games. In her speaking engagements, she has acknowledged the challenge of attempting to improve gender inclusivity in gaming culture and the media.

Sarkeesian has  taken on the ambivalent response of Silicon Valley companies to the threatening behavior they enable. But in their predominately male mind, money talks and BS walks. And they prefer for Sarkessian to walk out of their spaces and let “boys and men be boys and men.” Personal evolution, growth apart from infantile sexual fantasy, and obsession with video games is what drives their profits. Only until someone comes along to mine the finer angels of human nature will this subtle and accepted gender oblivion of women’s power and distinction end.

Tina Reine, Netizens, Tribea FF premiere and Q & A

Tina Reine in ‘Netizens,’ Tribeca FF premiere and Q & A (Carole Di Tosti)

Lowen also focuses on Tina, a successful businesswoman. After a fateful relationship which the male refused to let go of, Tina was cyber harassed in the most debilitating way. The individual used revenge porn and lies to discredit her career record. Using his own money to effect a psychological, emotional campaign of hate against her, he attacked her ability to make a living. Each time Tina would go to interviews, the few that she was invited to, the false background and lies would then appear. How she finally achieves a realm of peace, confronts the individual with legal means and regains control of her emotions and career is inspiring.


Cynthia Lowen’s Netizens was produced before the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, a faux attempt moderated by President Trump/Republicans to appear to examine Kavanaugh’s sexual abuse of Christine Blaise Ford in response to the clamor of the public to do so. In April 2018 however, the screening at Tribeca Film Festival and the Q and A afterward gave great occasion for the audience to feel uplifted about these women who were succeeding against online abuse and bringing their character assassins to task. After the Kavanaugh hearings, the entire culture  resumed its status quo and the concept was that once again, women “doth protest too much” and should just “shut up,” or “log off.”

Also, the watershed moments of the #MeToo Movement appear to have stalled after the onrush of women came out in force against their rapists, abusers, molesters and harassers and the men, in many instances celebrities, had their careers upended from the revelations. However, after Kavanaugh there appears to be a swing of the pendulum. Indeed, power and money talk as do the Republican conservative think tanks and societies, like the Federalists.

Another set back occurred when Jeffrey Epstein’s (accused of running teenage orgy parties that touched the lives of male officials and celebrities like Donald Trump and Bill Clinton) charges were shuttered and the testimony that should have been made public of the women he sexually abused when they were teenagers, never saw the light of day. Cover-ups of predation continue, sex-trafficking continues, bullying online via Social Media continues. Each case must be fought and won on its own merit and broadcast to the world.

Kavanaugh and Epstein push backs reveal that it is not enough for women to speak out and seek justice. Cultural mores and folkways must change; this includes for men, women and LGBTQ individuals. And for that to happen, mothers and fathers in parenting their sons and daughters must change. Women and men in their approach and relationships with each other must change. And the culture’s attitudes toward sex and love must become more fluid and tolerant. Sexuality and profitability, fueled by the infantile idea that sex is “forbidden” must die a death. Amsterdam, The Netherlands may have a healthier attitude in that they legalize prostitution and cut off the idea of predation for profit at the knees. Paying for Sex is legal. Enough is enough.

In any case, change is process. Whether face-to-face or online, sexual predation of women and men is a daily war that must be fought in homes, businesses, frat parties, dorms and online to change the culture. The change must go beyond the artificiality of political correctness down into the loins and hearts of young men and boys and the minds and understanding of young women and girls. Regardless, it will happen. It’s only a matter of time and critical mass leveled by the public.

About caroleditosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is an Entertainment Journalist, novelist, poet and playwright. Writing is my life. When I don't write I am desolate. Carole Di Tosti has over 1800 articles, reviews, sonnets and other online writings. Carole Di Tosti writes for, Theater Pizzazz and other New York theater websites. Carole Di Tost free-lanced for VERVE and wrote for Technorati for 2 years. Some of the articles are archived. Carole Di Tosti covers premiere film festivals in the NY area:: Tribeca FF, NYFF, DOC NYC, Hamptons IFF, NYJewish FF, Athena FF. She also covers SXSW film. Carole Di Tosti's novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Power,' is being released in November-December. Her two-act plays 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics' in the process of being submitted for representation and production.

Posted on May 3, 2018, in Film Festival Screenings, Film Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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