TV & Movies

NYC Catcalling Video Star Talks Harassment & Racism

Shoshana Roberts responded to a Craigslist ad for a volunteer acting job—for a video that has since racked up over 36 million views. Find out what she was thinking during the 10-hour shoot and why she’s been called “the Katniss of real life”

(Photo: Courtesy of Shoshana

(Photo: Courtesy of Shoshana Roberts)

Actress Shoshana Roberts silently endured over 100 come-ons and creepy shout-outs in the street harassment video 10 Hours of a Woman Walking in NYC. The video, which was a collaboration between anti-street harassment group Hollaback and marketing company Rob Bliss Creative, became a viral sensation.

But viewers and the catcallers themselves may be surprised to know what the 24-year-old New Yorker was thinking as she walked. “I was honestly living and re-living moments of sexual assault from my past,” she confides. “So, I was in some dark places in my mind, unfortunately.”

Roberts talks to FLARE about the video, her own experiences with harassment (pre- and post-vid) and the racial controversy surrounding its editing.

This video turned out to be huge—how did you first hear about it? It was a volunteer thing. It wasn’t actually a job. I didn’t get paid for any of this. My Facebook friend posted the Craigslist ad for a “street harassment viral video.”

I’m an actress, I do volunteer jobs because it gets you footage for your reel and you make connections. I looked it up, and I thought this is something that happens to me a lot, this is something that I am fed up with, this is something that I’m passionate about.

Rob Bliss, the director, has this great thing about changing hearts and minds and I believe that wholeheartedly, and I guess I’ve become the face of the revolution. People keep telling me I’m like the Katniss of real life. I love that because I’m a big Hunger Games fan!

What was the experience of shooting like? I was using my acting training to keep my composure, but then in my mind I was thinking about the cause and I was honestly living and re-living moments of sexual assault from my past. So I was in some dark places in my mind, unfortunately.

I didn’t even hear half of those guys who said things to me because I was just thinking of when I was touched unwillingly in middle school.

I’m so surprised to hear that while you were doing the video you were having such private, upsetting thoughts. The one I just mentioned in middle school was just the first. There are other incidents that I’ve filed with police and others, which nobody knows about. I’ve had my chest squeezed on the street. I’ve had my butt squeezed. I say it lightly right now but I am exasperated. I don’t know how to respond. There’s nothing I can do to stop these people. I wear sweatpants sometimes and a puffy jacket and it still happens! It doesn’t matter what you wear.

It sounds like a traumatic experience. You never know what someone has been through… not everyone reacts to harassment the same way. It’s all intonation and intention. These people are not speaking with respect that spoke with me. I clearly had non-verbal cues that said I didn’t want to be spoken with and they got very mean when I didn’t respond.

How did you decide what to wear for the shoot? Did they tell you what to wear? Rob didn’t say anything about it so I said, “What do you want me to wear?” and he was like, “A T-shirt and jeans.”

Just wearing that you still got some pretty dramatic come-ons… I can’t control the fact that breasts grew on my body. They are there so my future children can have milk!

What kind of responses have you gotten personally from the video? Is it true you received rape threats? I’ve gotten rape and death threats [via email and social media]. People want to slit my throat apparently for letting someone film me walking down the street.

What’s their objection? A lot of people say that I’m rude. I’m an actress. I took direction from my director. I was told not to respond, just walk towards the camera.

You’re not rude to not respond to offensive behaviours… I’m not. I was thinking about my sexual assault experiences, I wasn’t even aware of the harassment necessarily until I watched the video like everyone else.

What’s your experience with catcalls in real-life? It happens all the time, every day. Some days I’m going to a job and I’m happy and jogging to get to the subway with my phone up to my ear in a conversation and someone will try to stop me and I think maybe I dropped something, but no, they’re just trying to tell me they want to eat my a*shole. That’s ridiculous!

I’m not saying stop interacting; I’m saying stop using disrespect. If I’m walking down the street smiling and nodding, you can smile and nod back and if you say something I will respond, if you say it with respect.

Yeah, like ‘good morning.’ How about that? I love it when people say good morning!

The video got a lot of heat for its editing choices—seemingly leaving in a disproportionate number of black and Hispanic men [Bliss has said the editing was not based on race and couldn’t be “statistically accurate” but rather was a dramatic choice]. What’s your reaction to that? I didn’t see any of the footage until it was released but I trust that he used the best footage. You don’t make a viral video without the best footage. Nobody is going to want to watch a muffled thing you can’t hear.

You don’t think it was intentional? No, I don’t think so.

But while you were walking did you notice the race of the men speaking to you? I wasn’t looking at people. I was in my head, thinking of the thoughts in my brain, this wonderful thing I have!

Do you think videos like yours have any real social affects? Some say they’re just stunts. I think that we did start a dialogue, which is what they wanted…  I think just the fact that it’s more in the open and people are talking about it is a wonderful impact, so you think before you speak!