From acclaimed filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (The Island President, The Rape of Europa), the emotionally raw documentary Audrie & Daisy, which is available on Netflix, examines the ripple effects on families, friends, schools and communities when sexual crimes against underage young women have been caught on camera. By highlighting the stories of these girls and their families and friends, and specifically exploring how the lives of American teenagers Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman were irrevocably changed after a sexual assault that led to unrelenting social media bullying, which resulted in Audrie ultimately taking her own life, the film brings into focus issues of truth, power and trauma.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, singer/songwriter Tori Amos, who wrote the song “Flicker” for and inspired by the documentary, talked about the song’s inspiration, her reaction to watching the heart-breaking film, why it’s important for this film to spark conversations, and why we should listen when young people just need someone to hear them. She also talked about preparing to go out on tour in 2017, having a “love affair” with her audiences, and being in the early stages of recording new music.
Collider: This is a very difficult documentary to watch, emotionally. How did you come to write a song for Audrie & Daisy?
TORI AMOS: They sent me the film to see it, so I watched it. First of all, I couldn’t speak. I was numb after seeing it, and began to start processing that. Although we’ve all read about what’s happening on our college campuses and that it’s an epidemic, this film is talking to us about high school and middle school, with Audrie and Daisy being 14. It was just a shock that our teenagers are living this and that it’s really happening. It’s not as if it’s a neighborhood not like ours. It’s happening everywhere. It doesn’t know a certain type of school. There are no boundaries to this. And yet, it did seem like, once I started asking people that I know, not a lot of people wanted to talk about it, and parents, in particular. Other parents I know would say, “Oh, that’s a really tough subject,” thinking that, if they don’t have the conversation with their kids, it won’t happen. That was the beginning for me. The filmmakers talked, in depth, about their experience making the film. It took them several years, and that was really informative. I got a sense of what they were up against, in order to make this film. There are people that don’t want this film out there, and there are parents that don’t want to have a conversation about the issues in this film.
What inspired the song “Flicker,” specifically?
AMOS: The song started to form and fire became central. Yes, the film does talk about Daisy’s house being burnt down, so fire is in the film. But, that life force that we need sometimes for all of this is completely elusive and we can’t find it. I know that, for myself, if I didn’t have somebody reach a hand out to help me find it and talk me through it – whether it was a friend or a stranger or a professional that deals with painful and tough issues – than I don’t know how I would have gotten through it. There were times in my life where I couldn’t get through it without help.
Having someone willing to just hear you say something out loud certainly makes anything easier to deal with.
AMOS: When you and I think about what Audrie went through, not only with the tragedy of the sexual assault, but also the other component of her story, which is it being put on social media, and how she believed that her life was over, and there are people that were slut-shaming her online. When do we have to look at the fact that our fingerprints are on our tweets and our messages that send things out that drove a person in so much pain to end their life? It’s a question that I think we need to put out there. I run into people, all the time, that I’m sure are douchebag trolls. I have my inner troll, and we’ve all said things that we regret. We’ve all done it. No one, except my mother who doesn’t go online, hasn’t said something out there to somebody that they regret. What’s worrying to me are the things that we say that we don’t regret, but that really cause harm and deep pain. So, I felt like this film brings up a lot of issues that we need to talk about.
In the featurette that you did about the song, I love that you wanted to turn the mantra of “Monsters are made, not born” into “Heroines, they are not born, they are made.” Why was it so important for you to turn that into something more empowering?
AMOS: The muses are very much about the saying that I’ve been saying for 25 years, which is, “If it’s too loud, turn it up.” You have to take the seed and transform that seed. When you think about it being monsters and their actions, that seed has invaded you, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. But if you take that seed, as the phoenix does, and transform and transmute it for empowerment, that’s what the song needed to do to acknowledge those young women and this incredible tragedy. Also, we have to see, as a society, as parents and as grown-ups, that we’re a part of this conversation, whether it’s because our head is in the sand and we’re not looking at what’s going on, or because we’re sending those tweets to that teenager ourselves. We justify getting involved and being irresponsible with some of the things we say that could absolutely destroy someone because it’s digital and we think, “Well, my prints aren’t there.”
Do you hope that, with a movie like this, it’s not just kids who are the age of the kids in the film that watch it, but also their parents?
AMOS: I think it’s essential that the kids watch it because this is their generation. Daisy going around with the movie is imperative, and I have huge respect for her doing that. That takes courage. Teenagers speak the same language, and sometimes they might not want to talk to [their parents] and watch it together. There are things my daughter won’t watch with me. I didn’t know what it was about and I said, “Do you want to go American Hustle together?” And she said, “Ew, I’m not going to go see that with you!” I said, “What?! We’ve seen movies with Jennifer Lawrence before. And Amy Adams is a redhead. What’s the issue?” And in her British accent, she said, “No, little ginger momma! Don’t you know what this is about?! No, we’re not sharing that one!” So, there are certain films that I think parents and teenagers will watch together, and some that you should watch on your own or with your friends. I had to watch it more than once. To be honest, I’ve seen it four times and I’ve taken something different from it, each time. And the conversation that I’ve had with other parents has been one where they are much less in touch about what’s going on than the kids are, even the younger kids. They seem to know what’s going on out there. So, I believe that this film will spark conversations. That’s the idea.
Music has always very clearly been an outlet of artistic expression for you. You’ve released quite a few albums and toured for a number of years, and Rolling Stone has even voted you one of “the best live performers of all time,” which anyone who’s gotten to see you in concert can attest to. Since you’ve been auctioning off tickets to one of your concerts in 2017, to benefit RAINN, does that mean you’re touring again soon?
AMOS: I guess it does! Yes, it means that. One of my nieces is in New York, and she’s helping me. She makes me exercise to old school rap music, like Dre and Jay-Z, and all of that. I’m like, “Okay, I can do this, only if we split it with Zeppelin.” I’m doing it in order to get ready for the tour.
When you’re on stage, you have such a deeply personal connection with your audience. What do you still love about being on stage and performing live?
AMOS: You’re having a love affair with an audience organism. The thousands of people become a creature. They’re individual and you can feel energies out there. They’re having different thoughts and feelings that you are picking up on, but they’re a collective, as well. I never get tired of that collaboration, and it is a collaboration. From one night to the next, I’m very dependent on them. And some shows are more intense than others. With some shows, you’re dealing with something that happened in that town, or maybe something that happened that day somewhere else, and that audience is bringing their ingredient to the show, too. Not all performers value or understand how to tap into that or why you would want to, but I really value what they bring.
Are you going to be recording or releasing new music soon?
AMOS: I think so. It seems so. We’re in the process right now. It’s early days, in some ways. I’m working through it. I’ve been taking my pilgrimages right now. This is a time where there’s so much change happening. We have our election happening, but also, the moods of people’s emotions, opinions and perceptions. As a songwriter, I think it’s important to listen and not play. You’ve gotta keep your chops up, and all that, but you’ve gotta listen. It’s in the observing and listening where you really start to not keep projecting what you think somebody is telling you and how the story should come out. You’re saying, “Wait a minute, there are components to this thing that, unless I was seeing it, I just wouldn’t believe.” In traveling right now, going to different places and listening during this great migration that’s happening because people are fleeing war, listening to people and their emotions, and what they’re feeling about change and the world, is the challenge sometimes. As a songwriter sometimes, you have to discipline and say, “Okay, are you carrying your Democratic party card in this conversation, or are you just going to listen?” I get to vote in November as me. Right now, I need to be a set of ears and shut my mouth and listen. That’s the challenge in writing about explosive issues and writing during a time of explosive issues. I’ve put out records when things have seemed a bit more Netflix and chill, and when things seemed a bit more bumpy than that. You’ve gotta ride the stallion that you’re given.
Audrie & Daisy is now available on Netflix.