So I went to the screening of NO! at the Brecht Forum last night, and was really impressed and really moved by the film. If you have the chance to see it, or, even better, you can arrange a screening of it, then you should absolutely do so.
I want to write about the film here, and then I will follow up in a little bit with another post about the impressive women and man who participated in a panel discussion along with the director Aishah Shahidah Simmons after the film, as they provided some insightful perspectives on anti-violence organizing.
The film is largely composed from interviews with black women who have been sexually assaulted and with black men and women who can put those individual experiences in the context of group experiences and history. Simmonsâ€™s interweaving of the personal and the societal is incredibly skillful, managing to make each womanâ€™s experience reveal another dimension of the problem of sexual violence without ever marginalizing the individuality of each womanâ€™s pain. The stress is on healing, individually and collectively, but it is a healing that leads to action.
Simmons pulls no punches in the film, and preempts those who would trivialize or silence her project from the beginning. A film about intraracial rape risks being accused of disloyalty, of airing dirty laundry. As different speakers in the film say over and over in eloquent ways, silence about intraracial rape only serves the needs of half of the African-American population. Black women need safety, autonomy, and an end to stereotypes as badly as black men, and their traumas matter just as much as those of black men. The film is very clear that African-American men are no more likely to be rapists than white men, and that Simmons is not trying to reinforce old stereotypes. And it does not flinch from the brutal reality of rape during slavery, graphically reminding viewers that uncountable numbers of black women were raped by white men who claimed to own them and that this history still has consequences today. So Simmons is not saying that black men raping black women is the only kind of risk black women face or that black men are worse than any other group of men, but she is saying that the African-American community is not talking enough about rape within the community.
What her interviewees have to say is both very specific to the particularities of the black experience and black history and widely applicable to any woman facing pressure (internal or external) to remain silent and protect her attacker. The blaming of Desiree Washington for her rape by Mike Tyson, for instance, was heartbreakingly perpetrated by many major black leaders (including an appalling clip of Louis Farrakhan) and has very racially specific overtones of not tarnishing the image of a man we can be proud of (when â€œwe donâ€™t have enough male role modelsâ€) and not reinforcing white stereotypes about brutal black men. At the same time, survivors of all colors and cultures will recognize the victim-blaming in the claims that â€œshe shouldnâ€™t have been thereâ€ â€œshe shouldnâ€™t have tempted himâ€ â€œif she was a good girl this never would have happened.â€ And many women of many cultures will also recognize the pressure not to â€œruin his life,â€ as if her trauma is somehow worth less than his would be.
One particularity of the situation of African-American women coping with rape that is not shared by white women is their much smaller chances of having crimes committed against them taken seriously by the police. One woman in the film tells the horrifying story of finding out from someone in her neighborhood who her attacker was, reporting that information to the officer in charge of her case, and seeing absolutely nothing be done about it. Those who claim that racism is largely dead in this country have probably not talked to enough black women.
I could go on and on, but really you should simply see the film for yourself. Check out the website, find some interested friends, and arrange a screening.