Author: Samantha Leigh Miller
Samantha Leigh Miller is the author of one novel and several short stories. Her recent research focuses on creating a space for all to 'be' in urban settings and community developments around the world. She is currently completing a year-long fellowship at Arizona State University.
A film review of The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo
The Privilege of Anger
There is laughter. Some smiles. A furtive glance at the camera that betrays a child’s curiosity. “The catheter is out,” the woman says. “I have not wet the bed.” She is glad to tell him this news. Her doctor. He has made her body well, sewn together the broken walls of her vagina, repaired the inner workings of her urinary tract. Her eyes shine dark like liquid, moonlight off the waters of Lake Kivu.
There is a photograph. The body in the photograph has breasts. It is naked. There is a hand with a knife. The knife angles into the genitals amidst a thousand grainy pixels.
There is a man. He wears a red hat. Now a baseball cap. Now a hood that covers half of his face. “If she says no, I must take her by force,” says a man, staring, unafraid, into the camera lens. His pupils are hidden in the shadows. The whites of his eyes rove while he speaks. “If she is strong, I’ll call some friends to help me.”
Rape has been associated with war since war has existed. Such brutality is assumed, expected even, unavoidable collateral damage in the midst of prolonged periods of mass violence, some might say. To the victors go the spoils. For the defeated, there is revenge. For the war-weary and bored, there is entertainment. Lisa F. Jackson’s latest film, winner at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and nominated for two Emmy awards, is entitled The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo.
With this film, Jackson argues that rape is more than a simple consequence of war; rather, sexual violence is used as a strategic tool of destruction, one aimed at specific targets and one that strikes with military-style precision.
More than 4 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the region’s most recent war broke out in 1998, but such a number fails to address the countless women and girls left permanently disfigured, barren, and forever haunted by this devastating weapon of war. And most tragically, this number fails to count the casualties of the next generation, those born into a world where sexual violence runs deep in the veins of its communities and therefore perpetuates its own cycle of destruction. The number also fails to count those who will never be born at all. Rape, as a weapon of war, is, after all, most effective in its future tense.
Outrage. Fury. Pity. Vengeance. Despair. Useless emotions that flare up and burn out again and again throughout the seventy-six minutes of the film. The credits roll and one is left only with a vague sense of terror scoring the body. It tingles in the hands, clenches around the middle, gathers in the throat. But of the emotions at my disposal, it is anger I choose, since terror distracts and fear is paralyzing. Anger, when shaped, controlled, and propelled into a tight trajectory toward a precise target, can also be a most powerful weapon. This particular phenomenon is often found in the process of writing, but seldom in the world beyond.
The precise shape of Jackson’s anger is evident from the first frame of the film as she follows a group of rapists deep into the African bush with little apparent regard for her own personal safety. A shaky camera angle presents what could be a muddy road or a trail. Birds sing in the trees high above. Sunlight slants through the branches. Men with guns, knives, and long blunt instruments wander along the trail up ahead. Their voices are muffled. Their tone is casual. Easy to imagine others being dragged along this path. Easy to hear their screams.
“Ask them why they do it,” Jackson demands of the translator. “Is it for power or for sex?” But to this there is only the empty stare of incomprehension. A slow blink. There is no meaning. No purpose. No understanding to be found in the jungle. There is only this world of war. Of men. Of violence. And the women trapped inside.
The birds sing on above, unaware.
Jackson’s film ends with the thought that there is grace to be found in the jungle, perhaps divine grace, if such a thing exists. And yes, there must be a grace that allows life in the midst of death. Laughter through the din of cries. The gift of breath to those who scream. But what of the grace that speaks to justice? or hope? or faith? To this Jackson offers no answers, only the round-eyed image of a raped four-year-old in cornrows.
I have my words. Jackson has her camera. And the women of Congo? What becomes of their anger, if they are even to permit themselves the luxury? What becomes of the lives they have been left with when even those sent to help offer “milk and eggs in exchange for sex with girls as young as ten years old”? What happens when the “rapists of yesterday are the authority of today”? when laws are freely ignored? when the rare few who are convicted are set free for the price of a few American dollars? when your society, your family, the father of your children, and the rest of the world finds so little use for your existence? I would imagine anger to be a dangerous choice in this situation. I would imagine that anger, with no shape, no control, and no possibility for an outward trajectory would instead angle inward and eventually take the form of a fungus, feeding and thriving on the dead matter of a woman’s soul.
Knowledge is not sufficient. Neither is sympathy, or indignation. To critics who say the United States has had enough of the bloody meddling in the affairs of others, I say we have had enough of fighting ignorance with only more ignorance. Let us equip Congo with the tools of self-determination rather than the weapons of destruction. Let us build schools and hospitals and roads and libraries. Let us supply the region with an army of humanitarian troops. But most importantly, let us bombard the jungle with the explosive ideas of Choice. Options. Opportunity. These are our people, we are theirs. And the world is very, very small.
It is not enough, it can never be enough. Not until her pain is felt by me. Not until his ignorance becomes my education. Not until the nightmares of a nation fill my waking dreams.
Watch the film.
To learn more about the film and/or order the DVD visit: www.thegreatestsilence.org.