Black History Month here at Fairfield University continued its celebration and awareness with the showing of Aishah Shahidah Simmons’ presentation, “No! The Rape Documentary” on the evening of February 24 in the Kelley Center Presentation Room. This event was sponsored by the Office of Student Diversity and the newly founded group Reel Women, and funded by the English and Sociology & Anthropology departments as well as the Office of the Dean of Students, the Office of Black Studies, and the Office of New Media.
Ms. Simmons is a Philadelphia-based independent film maker who directed this documentary focusing on the rape of black women and girls in the black community. The event began with dinner and continued with a discussion of social activism, African American independent filmmakers, and the representation of blackness in film.
Ms. Simmons can be considered a feminist, social change agent, and filmmaker. She is a rape survivor who believes that the subliminal influences of Hollywood stretch across the globe, which is why she became so interested in film making. This documentary began in 1994 and made its debut at the Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles in 2006. The film, which was screened all over the world, highlighted the international reality of rape by starting off with traumatic survivor stories and then moving onto healing and reconciliation of the victims and even their attackers.
“Why are we silent about rape?” According to Simmons, this question is one that thousands of black women ask themselves and their “sisters” in the black community. Throughout history, black female slaves were often raped by their white slave owners who were never tried for any charges, while black men were lynched if they were even accused of raping a white woman. Simmons asserts that women believe racism is the bigger threat than sexual assault; they will do anything to protect their race, which includes not speaking up when a black man rapes them. However, many are beginning to question themselves, asking, “By being silent, are we preventing racism?” and are coming to realize that the answer to that question is no.
During the early 1970s’, the amount of hostility towards black feminists increased dramatically, especially with the controversy over Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple. The novel was highly controversial because it was about interracial sexual violence, something that the black community had not addressed publicly before. Along with the new increase in controversy came the thinking that sexual education is the right way to teach young girls rather than keeping them naïve and innocent on the subject matter. Silence has become a way of saying, “Here, take my daughter and murder her emotionally, mentally, and physically,” according to one of the mothers in the documentary.
It is also true that black women receive the least justice when it comes to rape and they need to be informed that they always, always have the right to say no, even if they said yes previously. It is extremely important that women and men understand that yes means yes, and everything else means no. Women who have gone through the trauma of sexual abuse or assault must be patient with themselves and the process, and understand that “the way out is to speak the injustices, because someone will listen.”
As important as this is for the women of the black community, according to Simmons, it is also just as important for the men in this community to want and be willing to make a change. Men need to begin holding themselves accountable and find spaces where they are able to go and speak with other men freely about their thoughts. In order for the community to be a whole, these issues need to be brought to the surface and discussed.
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