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

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - TAMIKO CUELLAR

DUE to the grow­ing global econ­omy and the dig­i­tal age, the way we think about us­ing our tal­ents has be­gun to shift our ca­reer paths away from con­ven­tional 9-to-5 jobs.

The most bril­liant thought lead­ers and en­tre­pre­neur­ial minds to­day are now forg­ing their own ca­reers, on their own terms.

Gen­er­a­tion X and the Mil­len­nial Gen­er­a­tion have shown us that work­ing at the same com­pany for 30+ years is not ideal. Just 10 years ago, the phrase “dig­i­tal no­mad” didn’t ex­ist, nor did in­cu­ba­tors and co-work­ing spa­ces.

Look at the world from the lens of a prob­lem solver. In­no­va­tion is birthed from ne­ces­sity. The world has no short­age of prob­lems, only tal­ent to solve them.

So­cial me­dia plat­forms were de­vel­oped in part to re­move the bar­ri­ers which pre­vented peo­ple from con­nect­ing.

As­sess your nat­u­ral gifts, skills and abil­i­ties. What­ever you can do well with the least amount of ef­fort is a clue to un­cover your bril­liance.

When you dis­cover your gifts, you can pack­age them in a way that makes them mar­ketable to the masses. En­trepreneurs put a price tag on what they can do well for oth­ers.

Learn­ing is on­go­ing – take cour­ses, at­tend we­bi­nars, go to con­fer­ences, read, or sub­scribe to your favourite blog or YouTube chan­nel.

You will shine the bright­est in this world when you take risks and when you learn to use your fail­ures and un­cer­tainty to your ad­van­tage.

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’.

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