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A Few Observations Since Making A Film About Rape (Trigger Warning)

by Darnell Lamont Walker

In the pursuit of shedding light on the harrowing experiences of survivors, my documentary “Set Yourself On Fire” functions as a powerful affirmation to the resilience of those who have faced sexual assault and rape. With the assistance of my Co-Producer, Tonja R. Stidhum, and through interviews with incredibly brave individuals, I not only unravel the dark narratives of trauma but also highlights the journeys towards healing, understanding, and, in some instances, happiness. As this impactful documentary has journeyed through film festivals, universities, community centers, clinics, and gender justice organizations since 2019, it has brought to light several observations that underscore the challenging nature of initiating a broader conversation about sexual assault and rape.

Set Yourself On Fire from Darnell Lamont Walker on Vimeo.

One significant hurdle I encountered was the reluctance of mainstream media to engage in a dialogue that emphasized healing and justice. Despite the profound stories of survival and resilience shared in “Set Yourself On Fire,” I discovered a hesitancy within traditional media outlets to address this sensitive topic. A freelance journalist, unable to watch the film without being triggered, revealed a prevailing sentiment that stories of sexual assault likely need to be sensationalized to generate interest. She was right. I watched as media fought hand over fist to be the first to get stories out about sensationalized cases, such as the Surviving R. Kelly docu-series, further emphasizing the need for a more compassionate and nuanced discourse.

A poignant moment during a Q&A session in Johannesburg unveiled another striking realization – the lack of awareness surrounding sexual assault in certain regions. A viewer expressed astonishment at the prevalence of rape outside of South Africa, illustrating the disturbing reality that, in some communities, these discussions are not taking place. She stated, “I didn’t know women were raped outside of this country.” The silence around such issues perpetuates a cycle of ignorance, hindering progress and perpetuating the normalization of sexual violence. One woman talked casually about being raped like she’d talk about grabbing groceries from the market. “It happened at a bus stop, then I got on the bus and went to work.”

Perhaps one of the most disheartening revelations was the continued support some individuals offer to known rapists. I encountered instances where forgiveness and second chances were extended to perpetrators, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. This troubling observation underlines a societal failure to prioritize the well-being of survivors over the comfort of those unwilling to confront the harsh realities of sexual violence. 

 

The documentary sheds light on the absence of empathy and compassion surrounding the subject of rape. Some individuals, it seems, remain indifferent until they personally experience the devastating impact of sexual assault. This lack of understanding perpetuates a culture where survivors often find themselves unsupported and disbelieved.

Despite these challenges, “Set Yourself On Fire” stands as a beacon of hope and resilience. Created with the intention of providing a platform for silenced voices, the documentary has sparked conversations around the world that have undoubtedly saved lives. By exposing the stark realities of sexual assault and rape, I aim to continue contributing to the collective effort to end this pervasive issue.

In my quest to highlight healing and justice, “Set Yourself On Fire” serves as a catalyst for change. The hope is that the documentary will not only encourage empathy and understanding but also prompt a broader societal shift towards ending rape. Together, I and the survivors featured in the documentary have initiated a crucial conversation that will continue to make a lasting impact on individuals and communities worldwide.

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