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New movie deals with difficult subject head-on

As producer and star, Rosario Dawson tackles violence against women from a unique perspective in her new movie, "Descent."
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Violence against women is a subject that Hollywood doesn’t like to deal with head-on. But when actress Rosario Dawson formed her own production company, Trybe, that’s the theme she chose for her first film.

“My mom used to work in abuse centers when I was really young,” Dawson told TODAY’s Ann Curry, Natalie Morales and Maria Menounos during a chat Monday on the Plaza at Rockefeller Center. “So, it’s just been a part of my life, and especially the neighborhoods that I grew up in. I just felt it’s a subject matter that needed to be dealt with seriously.”

In “Descent,” Dawson plays Maya, a college student who has everything going for her. She takes up with Jared, a young man who is just as talented and attractive as she.

But one night, Jared rapes her after she declines his sexual demands.

If Hollywood deals with the subject at all, she said, the approach is usually oblique.

“Most of the time, they’re dealt with through a court drama. Society talking about, ‘Well, what was she wearing?’” she said.

But not “Descent.”

'Very intense'“This is a story about a woman who gets sexually violated and doesn’t tell anyone,” she said. “So you’re just with her and her experience of it and see how she deals with it. I think it’s much more quiet and genuine. And it gets very heavy because it continues forward. It develops into a plot of revenge against her attacker.”

The revenge takes place in her bedroom after she lures him to his fate, which is no less vicious than the act he perpetrated on her.

“And there are two rapes in the film. It’s very intense. It’s not to be taken on lightly," she said.Dawson was born to a construction-worker father of Native-American and Irish ancestry and a professional-singer mother of Puerto Rican, African and Cuban descent. She grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and for much of her childhood, the family squatted in an abandoned building.

Born May 9, 1979, she was discovered as a teenager while sitting on a stoop in New York City. Dawson made her first movie, “Kids,” in 1995 when she was just 16. She attended Lee Strasberg’s acting school and has gone on to play major roles in “He Got Game,” “Josie and the Pussycats,” “Men in Black II,” “Alexander” and “Sin City,” among many others.

She formed Trybe with her friend of a dozen years, Talia Lugacy, her co-writer on “Descent” and the film’s director.

Dawson is also the creator of the comic-book series “Occult Crime Taskforce,” whose heroine polices magical crime in New York City.

“Descent” premiered to rave reviews at the Tribeca Film Festival. It will be released in theaters in Los Angeles and New York on Friday.