EYLEM ATAKAV (@eylematakav)
Duma is an extremely powerful documentary by Abeer Zeibak Haddad. It is regarded as the first ever film to focus on and shed light to violence against and sexual assault of women in Palestine.
Haddad’s first attempt to expose this issue is a puppet theatre show she created (‘Chocolate’), which deals with silencing of sexual abuse. The film opens up with a scene from the puppet show: we see a little girl in the playground; a stranger approaches her; we do not see what he does to her, but we can see him turning her forcefully on the carousel as she pleads: ‘Enough! I don’t want the carousel! I want to get off!’
Failing to attract audiences for the act, Haddad decides to make a film and directs her camera towards the lives and realities of five Arab women who were sexually harassed or raped by their family members or friends at an earlier age.
What bring these women together is not only the violence they endured in different ways, but also their silence imposed upon them by their families or society. The film creates a space for women to break the barrier of silence and fear and speak overtly about their experiences of rape and abuse.
One of the women interviewed talks about how she chose to hide it from her parents in order to not hurt them. She is not seen but heard in the scene when she talks about rape: ‘‘We sat on the promenade, my friend’s cousin and I. I was drinking coke and felt something strange, felt dizzy. We entered the room, he shut the door. Picture yourself suddenly waking up in great fear.. that’s how I felt. I suddenly woke up. I went to open the door but he didn’t let me. He shut the door. I tried to escape but he suddenly pushed me forcefully like an animal that captured its prey. He took of my pants. He took them off and I pulled them up. ‘I beg you, please! Please don’t force yourself on me!’ Suddenly I felt a terrible pain. Terrible. I cried and cried. When I saw the blood my fears boiled down to: ‘what is they find out, what if he tells…’ I am forced to have sexual intercourse. I am no longer a virgin. That’s it.. it was like something died, something was crushed.’ Another woman tells us that she lives with the images and nightmares as she says: ‘I picture him as a monster.’
In an interview Haddad talks about the challenges she faced in making the film: ‘People told me that it would be impossible to find women who were willing to come forward and talk about these issues in front of a camera. This is because these women fear negative retributions from the community, and bringing shame to their family. Some women have lived with the secret of being sexually abused for years, they are even afraid to tell their own mothers. Even though I spoke with many women who had suffered from sexual abuse, only five of the women agreed to be filmed. Out of those five only one agreed to have her face shown. It took months to find these women. Additionally I was afraid that society would not accept the film, I am finding that now people are very open to seeing the film.’
Haddad sees the main mission of her film ‘to be able to make women who are victims of sexual abuse feel that they are not alone. I want this film to give women the courage to come forward with their secrets. My mission is to show this film to as many audiences as possible, it does not matter what country a person is from or what religion they associate themselves with, I just want to show it to as many people as possible.’
In the film one of the women decides to face her abuser and tries to come to terms with her fears about re-living the experience when he sees him. Yet, he does not turn up to the meeting. Another woman seeks legal advice from a woman lawyer to file a complaint against her rapist/uncle, but she decides not to proceed with it because she is scared: ‘I’ll have to hide from everyone when they find out my uncle’s arrested because I filed a rape charge against him…. In the meantime he is alive and I am dead. In the future he’ll be in prison and I’ll be dead outside, jailed outside.’
One of the most powerful talks in the film is from a man who gives a public speech (about the death of her daughter) at a demonstration about violence against women in Palestine: ‘I was informed of the murder of my daughter… Some tried to ‘silence’ the crime and people came up with false allegations to prove the innocence of the killer. They said a closet collapsed on her. Then they said she slipped and fell and so forth… Then the report… stated that her ribs were broken, that she was strangled and prevented from breathing…. Where did we go wrong? Where did we fail that we couldn’t protect…all those who were murdered?’
These questions remain unanswered. Around the world as women are continuously murdered in the name of ‘honour’; the practice of female genital mutilation in the name tradition takes lives; attempts to ban abortion continue; women’s bodies are sold and women are abused, we need more films that scream the pain women go through while their identities and bodies are violated. Haddad’s film does so brilliantly as it is brutally realistic; revealingly provocative, and exceedingly enthralling.