Healing from the Cruelty of Humanity

Sunday marked the 80th Academy Awards which was an interesting show as no Americans won the acting awards. This speaks volumes about the state of acting in this country where it’s more about being a pretty face than actually having any real talent. But partly out of curiosity and partly out wanting to balance an evening of watching revolting opulence, Number One Fan and I headed over to the Pacific Film Archive to watch a documentary about rape in Eastern Congo called, Lumo. Specifically, the film deals with the story of one woman healing from a gang rape by rebel soldiers where she developed a fistula due to the violence and savagery of the rape by the men. Read up on that link there and yes, it’s about as horrific as it sounds. It’s crippling to the women who have had it happen to them.
The film is excellent and while I was a bit timid to watch it as I was worried that the film would focus on the gory specifics of the fistula and the surgeries the women underwent to recover at a hospital sponsored by HEAL. Thankfully, the film did not do this. The film was a wonderfully well crafted piece that followed this woman, Lumo, as she goes from being bedridden in horrible shape in her home village, to coming to the hospital, to the slow path of recovery, which involves multiple surgeries with lengthy recoveries from each.
The film isn’t some social studies experiment however. It takes an angle of actually getting to know all the women in this hospital and dealing with the fact that there is not only physical trauma for them to recover from, but also the mental anguish from rape, a possible pregnancy, and being completely ostracized by the people in their village. They become outcasts in their own homes and the film shows that in this safe commune of the hospital, they recover to some degree by having the support of others around them. Of course, there is also the return home to an uncertain future looming on all their horizons once they’re healed.
To say the film is heartwarming story would be ludicrous. It’s a hard look at the area around Goma where the brunt of the fighting between government troops and rebel fighters tends to hurt the civilians living there the most. Even still, it’s an informative film that bears watching for anyone unfamiliar with this war that has cost millions of lives and continues to this day.
On a different note, I was quite interested by the audience. For those who don’t know, February is Black History Month. While this film takes place in Africa, it was officially part of the Human Rights Festival. Even still, one would think that this would be something important to the history of blacks living in the US to some degree. This reminds me of a story though.
When I was living in Berkeley, I did a little stint working at the Berkeley Art Museum in the bookstore. It was some work thing I did for extra money to balance out my student loans. Pretty boring, but it paid the bills. So, it was about this time, in February of 1999 where I was sitting there, bored and the phone rang. This almost never happened, so I just picked it up and said, “Hello?”
“Hi, yeah, is this the Film Archive?”
“No, this is the gift shop for it and the museum. I can transfer you down to the archive if you want?”
“No, don’t bother. No one’s answering there. Listen, what’s the program for films this month?”
“I don’t know. This is the gift shop, but let me check.” I ruffled through papers and found the program. “Looks like some black and white prints from the 40’s. One or two minor short films. You can find it all online if you want.”
“What?!! There aren’t any African films being played down there?!!”
“Hmm, no, doesn’t look like it.”
“But this is Black History Month!”
“Oh yeah, I guess it is.”
“This is a travesty. An outrage. Despicable. Despicable.”
“Um, okay.”
“Look, why are there no African films being shown for the month?”
“I don’t know. I’m just a guy working in the bookstore.”
“Come on, you’ve gotta know. I mean, how can you in good conscience tell me you don’t know? This is belligerent racial insensitivity in its purest form.”
My point of patience was gone with this guy and I pulled out my “race” card.
“Look, my family is originally Croatian. There has been a devastating civil war over there and they don’t have anything, anywhere on this whole campus dedicated to it, let alone and entire month! Be thankful you get that.”
“Ummm, okay put me through to the director.”
“She’s not here, but here’s her number. Goodbye.”
I probably wasn’t supposed to give out the number, but then again, I also was just a guy working in the bookstore and not getting paid to deal with ax grinding boneheads. But, I brought up this whole story because as we were leaving after the screening, I looked around the audience and saw that it was maybe 10% black with the rest being mostly white. It just made me shake my head and realize that obviously my not solving the ax grinder’s problem with the film program in 1999 has had vast and serious repercussions that has resulted in racial lethargy. Stupid me.
Healing from the Cruelty of Humanity