Although I found the film extremely difficult to watch, my mind is still ruminating, and I find myself wanting to watch it over again immediately. Like a book or a television series that is so good when you wake up in the morning it is already on your mind. Beware, this is not a feel-good movie. My husband came home when I was half-way through the film and lost his mind when he was blindsided by a scene. Even though I found it hard to watch and had to stop and come back to it, when it ended, I found myself wanting more. Written and directed by Jennifer Fox, who usually films documentaries about others, Fox investigates her own childhood and begins to question everything she thought to be true.
To say the film could be triggering for anyone who has been abused is an understatement. I wouldn’t recommend anyone who has been abused watch this movie unless they feel they have worked through their trauma and have a solid foundation to help them get through the tough moments of the film. Even then, you may have to take a break or fast forward. For those who have reached a point of being able to examine their own abuse without being triggered, I believe they will find some moments where they can totally identify with the situation and feel a sense of validation. I recommend watching it alone, so you can go at your own pace and not hear the comments of others.
What you will hate about this movie is exactly why it had to be made. On one hand I questioned whether it was necessary to be so graphic in this film and on the other hand my job is to get parents to take their head out of the sand and understand how real and pervasive child sexual abuse is and how it is happening right under their nose. I believe all parents should watch this movie and really focus on the perspective through the eyes of the child and how they understood the world around them versus through the eyes of the adults.
This film is based on memories viewed through the perspective of a daughter and her mother. I have read a lot of memoirs on mother-daughter relationships and child sexual abuse as research for my own memoir. In writing my memoir about the molestation of my daughter by her third-grade teacher, my writing coach pushed me to include the abuse that I endured as a child at the hands of my grandpa. At first, I rejected the idea because that would require that I wrote things I didn’t want my mom to read because it wouldn’t paint a good picture of her according to my memory.
As in The Tale, my mother and I have two different memories of what happened when I was a little girl. I have always held some anger and resentment towards her for not believing me when I was a child and told her about the abuse. I always believed that my memory was very clear of the day I told her, like it was yesterday. Now, sometimes I question my memory, just as Fox did in the film. My mom swears to this day that I never told her. How can we have two completely different memories?
While doing research on memory, I found this is quite common. Memory is an individual experience. It is quite possible for two people to experience the same situation in a completely different way. This is what I love about the film, how our memory can also “fail” us (to protect us) is depicted in a powerful way that I hope helps to mend some relationships or at least offer an understanding. The realization that my mother’s memory of the situation is just as valid as mine as helped me to feel compassion for her now instead of resentment.
One of the most important elements of the film is the entire premises that Fox hadn’t even considered what happened to her was abuse until she was forced to examine it thirty-five years later. I can totally relate to this because until I was thirty years old, I wasn’t sure if what happened to me was wrong or normal. I knew it was gross and hated every instance. But I also loved my grandpa very much and had fun times with him. I only knew the term “rape” and didn’t believe what he did to me qualified as rape because it wasn’t violent. Even though I internalized it negatively, it wasn’t until others validated that it was in fact abuse that I felt free to describe it as abuse.
Sadly, after working in this field for eleven years, I find this to be quite common. Teaching child sexual abuse prevention wasn’t a thing back then, parents didn’t have those kinds of talks with their kids. When kids aren’t taught what abuse looks like versus healthy boundaries it leaves kids ripe for the picking because they don’t even understand what is happening is abuse. The film shows how subtle grooming is and how there were red flags, boundaries crossed and witnessed by bystanders, and yet nobody spoke up.
This is happening in our schools, sports, and youth-serving organizations every day. I feel sick when the media and the public describe abuse as a “relationship” between a teenager and an adult. Even calling it a “sexual relationship” or “inappropriate relationship” allows for victim-blaming and minimizing which has consequences that result in justice not being served and abuse to propagate. Just today, the Voice of San Diego reported on two teachers who had “relationships” with students and were allowed to continue teaching at other schools.
You may argue that the teenager in the film consented and that teenagers not only consent but may even pursue their teachers or coaches. Regardless, the law says minors cannot consent to sex with an adult and studies show that brains aren’t fully developed until around 26 years of age. I have worked with many victims that believed they were in love with their teacher and felt they had a very special relationship until they look back on it now. Once they have matured and witnessed healthy boundaries and relationships, they realize what they thought was happening was really manipulation and they weren’t special at all, there were other victims. As the detective in the film says, there are always other victims.
In the event that a teenager would initiate any sort of inappropriate behavior, the onus is always on the adult to not allow the behavior and report it immediately. When the adult allows or prompts the behavior to continue, this is not a relationship, this is sexual abuse whether the minor understands that or not.
I hope that this film will open parents’ eyes and accept this is happening and talk to their kids from the time they are born and into adulthood about what healthy relationships and boundaries look and feel like. Brava, Jennifer Fox, thank you for telling your tale.