Northwestern alumnus sheds light on child marriage through short film “Evie”


Source: Mike Peebler

Stills from “Evie.” The short film tells the story of a girl forced to marry the man who sexually assaulted her.

Aaron Wang, Reporter

When filmmakers Mike Peebler (Communication ‘98) and Marc Fellner-Erez heard NPR report a story about Sherry Johnson, who, at the age of 11, had already given birth to a child and was forced to marry her rapist, they were shocked.

“We just could not believe that (child marriage) was real in the US,” said Peebler. “But when we delved into the research, we found out that it was a prevalent thing that was happening in every single state in America.”

According to Unchained at Last, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending child marriage in the U.S, child marriage remains legal today in 48 states — with many having no minimum age for marriage in law.

To shed a light on this subject matter, Peebler and Fellner-Erez teamed up with Unchained at Last. The filmmakers’ short film “Evie,” now available online, is based on true events and tells the story of a 15-year-old girl in a cult-like community whose parents force her to marry the man who is sexually abusing her.

Fellner-Erez said they and Unchained at Last fundraised for the film online. The film was shot on a tight budget, which required the producers to be versatile in achieving tasks during filming, handling responsibilities like trimming trees and clearing the way.

Caitlin Durkin, who played the titular role of Evie, said she was heartbroken when she compared Evie’s experience with her own life.

“As I go to school, live with my family, and spend time with friends my age, Evie is pregnant and being pushed away by her own parents, the ones who are supposed to protect her,” Durkin said. “This contrast made me understand the immense feeling of abandonment and betrayal that Evie is feeling throughout the film.”

Lauren Stamile (Communication ‘98), who played Evie’s mom, echoed that sentiment. As the mother of a little girl, Stamile said she at first was “disgusted” by the role she was playing.

“There’s a scene where we were out in the car, and it was so hot and dusty and gross,” Stamile said. “That kind of suffocating, weltering feeling was pretty much exactly how I felt about this character.”

However, by drawing on her own experiences, Stamile said she was able to empathize with her character and depict her with different layers of emotions. In patriarchal socieities, she said women can have limited room to push back against their husbands, and the actress channeled this conflict into her character.

To bring the topic to a larger audience, Peebler said they are now looking forward to broadening its scope with a full-length feature version of the story.

“The majority of us don’t even know child marriage is a thing,” Peebler said. “We hope we can get the conversation started and eventually make the change.”

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Twitter: @aaronwangxxx