Film-maker walking the talk
Get a job on your own terms Jennifer Fox’s fearless account of abuse resonates with many, writes SHAIN GERMANER
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The most brilliant thought leaders and entrepreneurial minds today are now forging their own careers, on their own terms.
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Learning is ongoing – take courses, attend webinars, go to conferences, read, or subscribe to your favourite blog or YouTube channel.
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Cuellar is the chief executive and founder of Pursue Your Purpose LLC, a US-based coaching firm for aspiring and emerging women globally. She is also an international business strategist, speaker, author, and Forbes coach. THREE years ago, Jennifer
Fox would have been “scared to death” to release her newest film, The Tale. An unflinching look at her own childhood abuse and the complexity of her relationship with the perpetrators, Fox’s film has received widespread international acclaim. It will be screened in South Africa in the next few weeks.
“The film was being made long before the #MeToo movement… and frankly, I was scared to death that a film this explicit – on purpose – (that) the press would tear it apart, unless there was someone to stand up – me – and say, it really happened.”
Fox’s autobiographical film is not afraid to showcase the less talked about perspectives in the child abuse narrative, and she knew that its intentions would only be understood if she attached her name, personality and career to its main character.
“The only way to protect the story and film coming out was to say: ‘This is really true and if you have any questions, come to me’.”
The Tale follows Fox
(played by Laura Dern), whose mother discovers an essay Fox had written as a 13-year-old, describing her first romantic relationship involving two adults. As the film oscillates between present day and 1973, Fox struggles to come to terms with the conflicting emotions she felt towards the man and woman who had groomed her into sexual awareness, how in adulthood she had created a positive narrative on what took place, and her eventual realisation that she was physically abused.
Fox, primarily a documentary film-maker, uses one-on-one interviews that in reality weren’t possible to show not only her childhood perspective on the relationship, but that of her abusers. Much of the film is based on Fox’s own investigation conducted 35 years after the incident, where she managed to track down the two perpetrators, yet was unable to get the answers she was hoping for.
“I ran into problems writing the script about the two perpetrators (given the pseudonyms Mrs G and Bill). I was hoping if I found them and met them, they would give me some answers… I met Mrs G many times, I spoke to the real Bill several times on the phone. I realised they would never tell me why they did what they did or what was happening in their minds.
“I had to make it up based on bits of information I had. The only thing I could do was fantasise… What grown man is interested in a little girl who looks like she’s a nine-yearold boy? That was always my question. I knew he and she would never answer.”
At the core of The Tale’s story is Fox’s realisation she had lived most of her adult life looking back fondly on the manipulative relationship in which she was embroiled, and the conflict between her past and current self.
“The child’s perception is also true. He did love me, I did feel love. I did feel important. It’s just not the only narrative. As an adult you can actually hold the ambivalence and complexity. It is true that I felt loved, and it is true that I was manipulated and abused. Both things are true.”
But Fox never opened up a criminal case against her abusers, not only because of the US’s statute of limitations on such prosecutions, but also because she felt she would have “collapsed” if she had to fight such a case as a teenager.
She recognises that this is why it is so difficult for young people to speak out about sexual abuse.
“I’m just one person with one story. But when I first used the word ‘child sexual abuse’ on myself was when I was filming (another of Fox’s documentary projects) Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman. One of the turning points for me was meeting my friends in South Africa.
“Again, they’re from different countries, different colours, different backgrounds, and here we all had this same story. It had this paradigm. Their sexual abuse looked like my sexual abuse. So I realised that’s what happened to me.”
Following this realisation, Fox said she knew why she hadn’t been able to come forward earlier.
“Being a victim at 13 would have killed me more than the event itself. So what do I mean? Of course, I was a victim in reality. I was a victim of adult coercion and manipulation. No two ways about it. But conceptually as a 13-year-old if I had accepted victimhood, I would have collapsed and been destroyed. By not accepting this, saying I chose this and
‘I’m the hero’… I was able to construct an identity of strength and power and use the attention they gave me to feel better about myself.
“It’s so complex. I don’t want to suggest that people shouldn’t come forward (about abuse), and maybe me not realising it was sexual abuse may have hurt other children. Because who knows who else he might have abused? In my denial, he had years and years to do whatever he wanted… I’m really sad that my denial could have allowed him to hurt other children. I did the only thing I could do at that age, but I’m not condoning that either.”
The film also captures Fox’s belief that the abuse ultimately shaped her adult personality, that it gave her a resilience that she otherwise may not have had.
With a positive critical and media response so far, one has to ask if the film’s release has been a cathartic experience.
“I’ve never been involved in a project that didn’t help me grow and face things and understand the world. I’m incredibly blessed, privileged that I get to do this work. And even though this is a memoir and personal work, I’m growing through it… I have got new insight into these events in my life, and it will continue until I die. It’s not like now I’m healed and its over. I will be grappling with this trauma and other traumas in my life my whole life.”
But the reaction at screenings has shown Fox that there are many other survivors of childhood abuse, who resonate with the messages.
“Every time we show the film, I hear a slew of stories from other people… Every time I read (or hear) another story, that changes me.
“Memory and trauma and abuse are very complex stories in our lives and I think we all could learn and grow by seeing the complexity and nuance, and ask how do we deal with the ambivalence?”
As the writer and documentarian, she hopes her film can be used as a tool to open up dialogue about child abuse, and historical abuse.
The movie’s website (thetalemovie.-com) has information on how to access free screenings, as well as contact numbers for abuse hotlines worldwide and guides on facilitating conversations around the movie.
The film will be released on M-Net Movies Premiere (Channel 104) at 10pm on August 6, as part of Women’s Month.
It was announced on Thursday that the film had been nominated for two
Emmy awards for outstanding lead actress in a limited TV series and for outstanding TV movie.
‘She examines her relationship with
her abusers well into adulthood’
Film-maker Jennifer Fox opens up about her story in the movie ‘The Tale’.