In the year 2020, Taylor, a 23-year-old American engineering college student, was confronted with a disturbing revelation: she had become a victim of deepfake pornography. Her own face had been digitally transplanted onto another woman’s body in explicit adult videos. This powerful documentary meticulously traces Taylor’s arduous journey, not only to unmask the perpetrators behind these egregious videos and bring them to justice but also to grapple with the profound impact this ordeal has had on her life, mental well-being, and potentially, her future prospects. The film approaches this complex and challenging subject with a blend of sensitivity, respect, and necessary frankness, delivering a compelling call to action.
The issue of deepfakes is gaining increasing momentum, with the White House recently unveiling the initial blueprint of a groundbreaking report on gendered online harassment and a class action lawsuit against Pornhub nearing its trial. “Another Body” is poised to strike a chord with audiences as it premieres in the SXSW documentary feature competition. At its core is a deeply personal narrative, enhanced by its innovative use of eye-opening deepfake technology, which could well capture the attention of distributors. It’s likely to find a home on a streaming or broadcast platform. Given the lag in online safety training compared to the rapid evolution of technology, this film could serve as a valuable awareness tool, particularly for those over 18 and, in particular, parents and guardians.
The relentless evolution of deepfake technology, from advertisements featuring long-deceased film stars to the now-ubiquitous viral videos with face transformations, has showcased its remarkable capabilities and realism. However, as with many facets of the online realm, there exists a much darker side. While the media often emphasizes the potential political implications of deepfakes, such as their influence on elections, a stark statistic highlighted here is that 90 percent of deepfake content comprises non-consensual pornography, predominantly featuring women.
Taylor, an individual affected by this issue, initially discloses that she’s not using her real name or her actual face, emphasizing the concerns of victims speaking out. In a move designed to both protect their identities and underscore the effectiveness of this convincing technology, the filmmakers, Sophie Compton and Reuben Hamlyn, employ “faceveils” – the images of consenting actresses grafted onto the subjects. The result is astonishingly realistic.
Central to this documentary is the critical notion of consent. Compton and Hamlyn approach their subjects with great care, ensuring that the women they connected with, including Taylor, are shielded from re-victimization through the sharing of their stories. The faceveils remain firmly in place throughout on-camera interviews and the video diaries Taylor uses to chronicle her efforts to identify the person responsible for this violation. All explicit video footage and imagery are meticulously reenacted using actors, with key characters represented as avatars and settings as digital renderings. Nevertheless, it’s abundantly clear that the crimes committed in this anonymous online realm, where individuals can hide behind VPNs or unregulated chat forums, have profound real-world consequences.
Compton and Hamlyn have been extensively researching deepfakes since their emergence on platforms like Reddit in 2017. Their mission is to raise awareness about how this technology is being weaponized, particularly against women, a cause they champion through their #MyImageMyChoice campaign. They emphasize that the threat isn’t limited to celebrities alone, even though the market for deepfake celebrity pornography is substantial. As the technology becomes more accessible, and online tutorials become increasingly prevalent, any woman globally with a social media presence is vulnerable. Those who create deepfake content often refer to their female subjects as “targets.”
Regrettably, and as frequently observed in the realm of online safety, government and regulatory bodies struggle to keep pace with these developments. The absence of specific legislation in this domain is a matter discussed by activist Adam Dodge, and the response of law enforcement to Taylor’s case is disheartening. Perhaps the most distressing aspect of Taylor’s experience is that, even after apparently identifying the individual behind the videos, she has no legal recourse to seek justice. Current laws do not deem his actions illegal, and the websites hosting such content, as well as the forums and social platforms supporting it, evade responsibility. Thus, it falls on the shoulders of the victims to take a stand, and the onus is on the rest of society to amplify their call for genuine change at the highest echelons of authority.