Rites Of Passage? When Our Womanhood, Hurts.

(Photo: Reflection by: Frances Bradley)

Before its Fall 2016 release, Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation had plenty of Oscar promise and viewer anticipation. But when the actor/director’s past surfaced (in 1999 Parker was accused and acquitted of rape while he was a student and star wrestler at Penn State), there was a backlash across social media.

“The conversation about sexual assault is shifting, and I think many women and survivors are finding their voices and learning the power of speaking out about their experience,” says Frances Bradley, a visual artist and victim and survivor of sexual assault.

“The outcry against Nate Parker and the boycott of his film is evidence of that, and I think it empowers the movement to end sexual violence against women and girls.”

In press interviews, Parker didn’t express much culpability for, at the very least, taking advantage of the intoxicated victim, and for allegedly “waving in” his roommate to have sex with her without her consent. The victim committed suicide in 2012. The father of four daughters’ apparent lack of empathy and respect for women, may have ultimately sabotaged the box office appeal of the film about 1831 slave insurrection leader Nat Turner. To date, The Birth of a Nation has only grossed $15 million in domestic box office sales. Fox Searchlight paid $17.5 million, the highest price in its history, to acquire it.

“If men want to be advocates of the movement to end sexual violence they have to be very vocal about it in conversations with their male friends, and in teaching other men not to rape,” adds Bradley, whose art and documentary project, Womanhood or Woman’s-Hurt?,  raises awareness about sexual and domestic violence prevention and intervention.

“Silence is a comment of approval and Parker had the opportunity to use his platform to shift conversation in the direction of ending sexual violence against women and girls by speaking about the importance of consent, even if it is [with] a partner. In the world of social media and instant access to video technology, saying ‘no means no’ can have a typhoon-like effect, especially if one is perceived as a ‘celebrity.’ I think people were infuriated because his silence was a dismissal of an extremely serious issue.”

According to a U.S. Justice Department study, black victims report sexual assault at much lower rates than white victims; 44 percent for white victims compared to only 17 percent of black victims. And the Women of Color Network reports that for every black woman that reports her rape, at least 15 black women don’t report theirs. “I know what it feels like to face the pain, shame and guilt that [women] feel after being sexually assaulted,” says Bradley. “It’s not just hard for black women to speak up, it’s hard for anyone to speak up -- especially since most of the time it’s someone the victim knows. And [that] can make one feel even more violated due to the betrayal of trust.”

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