The Savanna Trust in conjunction with Integrations Theater held a film screening on Thursday 23rd July of Ewa Cederstam’s documentary film Dare Remember. The Swedish documentary follows Ewa as she tries to make sense of her experiences of being raped some 25 years after the fact. The film centres on the idea of the continued collective silence around this crime that affects so many women, who are then re-victimised through the silence and the un-intentional ostracism that flows from the violation.
Dare Remember is very personal. It is the documentation of one woman’s decision to fully process the fact that she was raped and to confront the hurt and isolation she felt afterwards. I appreciated the raw emotional nature of the film – Ewa’s vulnerability in putting herself on blast like that. However, aspects of the film itself and the conversations following and around the screening left a bad taste in my mouth. Ewa was present to take comments and questions.
On people not knowing what to say to survivors of rape
People don’t understand what it’s like to be raped, they just seem to get that it must be awful. There’s a poignant part in the documentary where Ewa equates people searching for the right words to say after they find out you were raped with people trying to find true words of comfort after a death. Everything they come up with seems to fall flat. So silence seems safer, if not patently easier. In the film, Ewa asks her family what they remember about the events surrounding the rape, and what they remember her saying about it. She then uses these conversations as a means of teasing out others’ perceptions of rape and sexual assault, as well as enabling her to wade through her own. She does this to try and understand the sensitivities around speaking of rape. The documentary seemed to say: look at the harm silence has wrought even as Ewa has clearly managed to build a life for herself, something she was quick to emphasise.
Victim-blaming is very real
In the film Ewa struggles with her own feelings of blame, along the lines of what if? What if she hadn’t started speaking to him? What if she had run away sooner? What if she had done something different? Even though a lot of work has been put into ensuring that society understands that survivors are not responsible for the harm, it was clearly something that haunted her even as other people tried to tell Ewa it was not her fault.
During the screening, I came to realise that there is still a massive bias towards blaming survivors. In fact, audience responses towards certain factual revelations in a room full of allegedly ‘woke’ people made me very angry. There are a series of scenes in Dare Remember where Ewa is speaking with a police officer, going over the events surrounding the rape. It turns out that prior to the rapist attacking her, Ewa had interacted with him. It was at this point that the sniggering started. As the account continues, we the audience find out that she asked him in for a cup of tea. This snippet of information was met with jeering from behind me and someone actually said, “Tea dzenyu idzi!” as though Ewa were to blame for the fact that she was raped.
Policing of rape survivors emotions: the right way to process
Ewa was determined to show that she was more than a woman who was raped, even as having been attacked continues to have an impact on her daily living. She said it repeatedly. Over and over again. She seemed to need to assert the fact that she was generally happy now as though if she were not happy, the legitimacy of the film would be called into question. She seemed at pains to emphasise that she wasn’t angry, even as other people were angry or expected her to be angry. She said after 25 years, the anger largely dissipated or something. This was met with cheering and applause by the audience that I didn’t understand. Anyway, the audience seemed to hold onto the idea that anger = bad. I found myself disagreeing profoundly with the idea that if you’re angry you’re doing surviving wrong. There is nothing wrong with being angry.
Many in the audience seemed to vibe with the anti-anger gospel, as though if you’re angry, you’re broken or you’re letting society down. Someone had the gall to compare the anger they felt when they were in a car accident with the anger they think rape survivors feel. Apparently, they are the same and anger should just be let go; then we should all sit in a circle and sing ‘Kumbaya’.
This anti-anger narrative also came with a sneaky centring of the rapist and pervasive notions of forgiveness that put a burden on victims of harm to downplay harm in the name of radical transformative justice, which is just silencing by another name. The desire to demonise survivors who weren’t here who would rather find a way to topple the patriarchy in a haze of righteous anger, indicated a shallow framing of issues. Rape isn’t just a bad thing that happens sometimes and we don’t know why. We need to stop acting like it is.
I like my films with a massive dose of feminism
This film left me with very mixed feelings, with some concerns about whether or not it was a good idea to show this particular film to Zimbabwean audiences to tackle issues of silence. I am thankful that Ewa shared her life and her experiences with us, but that’s about it. This film was an interesting inquiry. However, I query it’s propriety as the starting point of any teaching or instruction on the topic of rape, which appears to be the intention with the screening of this film. It will apparently be screened in rural areas, should everything go according to plan. I think Zimbabwean conversations around rape (really, all conversations about everything) need a massive dose of feminism, and this film doesn’t have it.
Dare Remember was not an interrogation of the patriarchal norms that regularise harm against women through silence and shaming, which admittedly it didn’t claim to be. However, it was presented as a ground-breaking step towards dislodging indifference. I don’t think it was and I struggle to see its utility in the Zimbabwean context. Respectfully, I think it would be best to have a documentary made directly for a Zimbabwean audience that is also informed by feminist scholarship, enquiry and lived experiences. This is necessary to tackle some of the misconceptions underpinning collective silence in the face of rape and also tackle head-on challenges survivors of rape face in interacting with the police and the legal system.
Such a film is necessary even for those of us who consider ourselves ‘woke’. Some of the questions asked and comments made after the screening were cause for concern. Clearly even those tasked with advocating for victims of GBV, those who consider themselves ‘woke’ or activists for women, have much to learn about the dynamics behind the abuse of and perpetuation of violence against women. I don’t see how we can do that without explicitly tackling patriarchal hegemony.
Main image from www.dotoday.se