‘Keep It Between Us’ Exposes the Worrying Epidemic of Grooming in US Schools
OWhen the heartbreaking revelations about Harvey Weinstein first broke in 2017, Cheryl Nichols, executive producer and subject of the Freeform docuseries keep it between us—remembers reading the cover in his living room. “The first thing I thought of,” she recently told The Daily Beast, “is what happened to me.”
As depicted in the docuseries, Nichols grew up in a small town in Texas called Little Elm. She alleges her high school drama teacher’s husband groomed her as a teenager – a relationship that continued through her college years. Although Nichols knows her experience as a survivor of grooming and sexual abuse is not identical to that of Weinstein’s accusers, the national report hit her “as part of this larger issue of misogyny, patriarchy and abuse of power”. Seeing Weinstein’s accusers come forward prompted the filmmaker to start thinking about how she wanted to tell her own story.
Part personal story and part cultural exploration, keep it between us examines grooming and sexual abuse in the American school system. The series combines expert interviews, first-person accounts, and social media testimonials. In addition to Nichols, the second subject of the series is a young survivor named Heaven Rubin, who sued the Miami-Dade School Board over its response to her own allegedly inappropriate relationship with a teacher when she was 17. .
The docuseries premieres its first two installments August 29 on Freeform. The final two will follow on August 30, and all episodes will be available on Hulu 24 hours after they air. During a recent interview, Nichols explained how his idea for a feature-length documentary turned into something bigger.
“The more people we talked to, the more obvious it became that this was a huge issue and deserved more than an hour,” Nichols said. And so, the film became a four-part docuseries directed by Amy Berg (Phoenix rising), Jenna Rosher (Expensive…) and Kristi Jacobson (Lonely). Executive produced by Nichols.
“I wanted to make sure as many eyes as possible were on this,” Nichols said. “And I wanted to tell a story from my intimate perspective, because I felt like if I could be vulnerable and open, it would allow other women to relate to me in some way.”
The series finds Nichols interviewing former classmates, one of her high school teachers, and a best friend she pushed away as her allegedly inappropriate relationship with her drama teacher’s husband grew more intense. The project also helped Nichols realize how different each trauma survivor’s journey is. At first, she recalls, she devoted most of her attention to getting other women to come forward and talk about their experiences. Over time, however, she realized that didn’t always have to be the case.
“Some people don’t need to come forward to deal with [something like] that,” Nichols said. Realizing that, she added, “was kind of one of the biggest shifts and changes for me — and my ass has definitely gotten back to me about it.”
Instead of group testimony, the emotional power in keep it between us emerges when Nichols takes a seat on the other side of the figurative table.
In order to achieve the vulnerability Nichols sought, she knew she had to leave her comfort zone and “step into the subject role.” As one can imagine, this is no easy task for someone whose adult coping mechanisms tend to revolve around control.
“I had no idea how to anticipate how I was going to react emotionally,” Nichols said. “The real lows I would go through; which would really bring me joy in this process.
The filmmaker was determined to truly let go, even though it was nearly impossible to predict what that might mean. Yet Nichols also knew that part of what drove her was a desire to own her account of what happened between her and her teacher – which, at times, certainly made letting go even more so. hard.
keep it between us took almost five years to make. “So from start to finish [of the project]it’s like I’m a whole different person,” Nichols observed.
Part of this evolution takes place on screen. Among the most interesting interviews Nichols conducts are those with his former Spanish teacher, who used to call his so-called groomer a friend. Before the end of the final episode, Nichols finds himself questioning the Spanish teacher about the allegations against him.
“I had a lot of realizations about why and how I choose to be true to friendships, especially friendships with older men, and especially friendships with older teachers.”
“The dynamic between him and me definitely changed during the making of this documentary,” Nichols said. “I had a lot of realizations about why and how I choose to be true to friendships, especially friendships with older men, and especially friendships with older teachers.”
The producer’s development perspective is not the only shift in focus. Half way through keep it between us, we meet Heaven, who last year was awarded $6 million in damages in its sexual abuse case against the Miami-Dade School Board following allegations against former high school teacher Jason Meyers . (Heaven alleges that Meyers, her English teacher, abused her when she was 17. Although the state of Florida has brought criminal charges against Meyers, it has not been found guilty and denies all charges. allegations.) As Nichols observes in the docuseries, survivors’ paths to recovery can vary; as she processes her trauma through production, Heaven sought catharsis in court.
Before she starts working on keep it between us, Nichols had not encountered so many survivors. Making those connections, she said, deepened her understanding of her own experience. She recalled a conversation she shared with another grooming survivor and Be Lolita author Alisson Wood who changed his perspective on labels like ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’.
“I hated those words,” Nichols said. “I felt like they didn’t describe my experience or who I was. But throughout this process, I really started to identify with the word “victim” in a way that didn’t feel cheapened to me… Allison spoke about the word in a way that meant so much to me as something that happened to you. and not something you are. And I love that.
Blaming the victim and minimizing undue harm, such as keep it between us points out, are rooted in rape culture. During her own testimony, Heaven details how the school board tried to downplay what happened to her. For Nichols, the most damaging story Americans tell about teenage girls usually boils down to six words: “She knew what she was doing. »
“I think a lot of times we think teenage girls are young women. We don’t see them as children, that’s what they are,” Nichols said. “Growing up, all I heard was, ‘You’re so mature. You’re wise beyond your years. While that may have been true, there were people who used that as justification for me. take what they wanted and treat me as they wanted.