Every woman I know has experienced sexual violence or intimidation in some form.* The vast majority of the time, this violence has been perpetrated by a man. Whether it’s being followed down the street, groped in a bar or on the subway, or an attempted or completed rape, the motive is the same every single time. It’s not about sex; it’s about power over another person.
Ashley George’s latest short film, DIABLA, is about a young woman who reclaims her power and her body after a rape with the help of other women who have also survived assaults. The young woman, Nayeli, is an ordinary Mexican teenager living with her mother and brother. A family friend, Rayan, rapes her during a family gathering. Nayeli tries to tell her brother what happened; he calls her a slut and accuses her of lying. The next day, Nayeli goes to see a doctor, who comforts her and tells her that she will be okay. And she is.
The doctor, as it turns out, moonlights as a bruja. She brings Nayeli into her circle, which is comprised of other women who have been abused by men. Together, they help Nayeli exact revenge on not only Rayan but on her brother.
SPOILER ALERT! The revenge isn’t murder; it comes in the form of total emasculation.
DIABLA is an effective rape-revenge film for a few reasons. The first reason is that the revenge is Nayeli’s and Nayeli’s alone. She didn’t need a man to save her or to “restore her honor” or some other patriarchal bullshit like that. When it comes down to it, the other women didn’t really save her either; they empowered her to save herself. Another point to note is that the rape, although shown on film and brutally realistic in its depiction, is not sexualized in any way—remember, this is an act of violence, not an expression of sexuality.
And finally, the revenge itself is satisfying. Nayeli doesn’t kill Rayan (although she could have). Instead, she leaves him with lifelong pain and trauma. It’s fitting, especially since she, and every other sexual assault survivor, will experience lifelong trauma. The punishment fits the crime.
DIABLA has other interesting details that could be analyzed to death, like the tradition of Mexican folk magic and machismo culture. There’s also the plot point that Rayan is now a resident of the United States, and according to Nayeli’s family members, considers himself a gringo, which may add another level to the rape if one reads it as an act of colonial violence in addition to misogynistic violence.
At the end of the day, DIABLA is about finding the strength within yourself and empowerment through your fellow women. And, although this film is technically horror, it’s only scary to rapists.
Nayeli is masterfully played by Ruth Ramos. She is supported by Cesar Mijngos, Daniel Fuentes Lobo, Violeta Santiago, Sandra Zellweger, and Georgina Tapia Silva. Diabla was written by Alonso Diaz-Rickards and Ashley George, and produced by Maya Korn and Diana Mata.
*Many of the queer and trans-identified men in my life have also experienced sexual violence.