Earlier this month, co-director Michele Mitchell gave a TedX talk called "What's Rape's Brand." Michele presented everything "The Uncondemned" is trying to achieve in ten concise and provocative minutes.
Check out the video below. We promise, it's worth the watch!
MICHELE MITCHELL: So there are a lot of ways to fund a film. The most handy and the hardest way is to find one person who will fund everything. But we actually thought we found that guy for our second documentary. He was in banking. He invited us to Cipriani. We drank bellinis. And then he leaned across the yellow tablecloth and he asked us, “What’s rape’s brand?”
Now our film about the first time that rape was prosecuted as a crime of war and I’m telling you we were expecting all sorts of questions: “Is your film going to make money?” “Are you going to find distribution?” “What’s rape’s brand?” threw us off a little bit. But then he went on. He said, “Well, I’m doing a movie about golf. I know what golf’s brand is. What’s rape’s brand?” Okay, it’s still a weird question, just in case you were wondering, but valid, right, who’s the audience for this?
So what we decided to do was sort of a targeted crowd-funding campaign just to test this out and what happened was in 4 weeks, we got twice as much money as we were asking for, 50:50 male/female splits, and the average age of the male donor was 25. So what was it that connected with these folks? What was it that seemed to make “rape’s brand” everybody?
Well, our film is set in 1997 during the first international tribunal since Nuremberg. After the Rwandan genocide, the international community came together to attempt to prosecute the masterminds. And this would also be the first time that genocide was prosecuted. And the first trial of that first time was against a small town mayor named Jean-Paul Akayesu. So this trial was already a very big deal when it got started, but what happened mid-way through was incredible. They were down to their third to last witness and all of a sudden, that third to last witness, the night before they were going to put her on the stand, she tells the prosecution team, I saw women being raped at the mayor’s office. So they stop the trial and they amend the charges to include rape as a crime of genocide and rape as a crime against humanity.
Rape has actually been a crime of war since 1919 but it had never been prosecuted, despite consistent examples across the 20th century of mass rape being used as a tactic of war. Akayesu would change all of that, but it would take the united effort of a group of activists, prosecutors, investigators, and they were all really young by the way. They were 27 to 33, from the United States, Europe, Africa, and it would also take 3 very courageous women to come forward to be those first witnesses in history. And it would take challenging some ideas of what rape is.
LISA PRUITT CLIP: Many of the investigators when I arrived in Rwanda said, “Well, we can’t be concerned about some women who got raped. We can’t divert resources to investigate those crimes. We had a genocide down here. Hey, little lady, don’t you know what happened down here? It's easy to kill the message by ridiculing the messenger. I got 80,000 bodies here, you know, you want me to talk to a couple women who have been raped or you know, those couple of women aren't going to talk to me so we can't get the evidence or look it wasn't systematic, you know, I would do it but it's not systematic, you know, or, or, or, or, or, or, or."
MICHELE: So genocide, when most people think of genocide, we think of death. But genocide, by definition, means an act committed to destroy a group in whole or in part, a group that’s national, ethnic, racial, religious. In the Akayesu case, the prosecution argued that rape was a form of genocide. One need not die in order to be destroyed.
This is the critical point and what we found as we went out and we talked to these women in the course of the production of this, we heard stories from some of those survivors. They told us, they told us that they begged to be killed after they were raped and their perpetrators told them, “No, we’re going to leave you alive so you can die of sadness.”
Witness JJ, the first woman to testify at a tribunal said that during her rape by a Hutu militia man, Jean-Paul Akayesu, her mayor, walked by, saw it happening, and told the Hutu militia man, “Never ask me again what a Tutsi woman tastes like.” I have done thousands of stories in my career, tough stories, I’ve been in some bad places, and I have never been affected so personally. Not because something has ever happened to me. That’s the evil genius of a tactic. That’s why it works because it ripples out beyond the person that it happens to.
I remember when I met Witness OO. She was 14 during the genocide, 17 when she testified, and today, two decades later, she said that although on the outside she looks alright, on the inside she’s still rotted. And I really remember when I heard what happened to Witness NN. I’m going to tell you a story that’s not in the film. Witness NN is in the film. This story is not.
Before the genocide, she was proposed to, she turned the man down. During the genocide, that man killed her family, killed her friends, and sexually enslaved her. And when I met NN, I heard that the man who did this to her was still living in her hometown. And that he and his family were still threatening her on a daily basis because she had testified. And I remember being so angry. I remember being so angry that I actually, I actually thought this to myself, “I’m an investigative journalist, I can find this guy. I can go find him. And when I do, I’m going to knock on his door, I’m going to punch him in his face, and I’m going to say, ‘You want to know what an American woman tastes like? That’s what it feels like.’ ” That’s insane, of course, that I thought that, but it’s that visceral reaction which is why the tactic is so effective and why people do it.
Now, when we were finishing principal photography in June of last year, London hosted a global summit to end sexual assault in conflict. 1700 delegates attended. You’ve heard of one of them. Never in military history will we be able to erase rape and conflict and in 1998, in September of 1998, judicial history was made. And Jean-Paul Akayesu was convicted of genocide and he was also the first person in history to be convicted of rape as a form of genocide and rape as a crime against humanity. Great news, right? Awareness has never been greater, 17 years after the fact, but we’ve all been reading about ISIS using mass rape in the conflict in the Middle East. And recently, two former CIA analysts wrote that there’s been no attempt to track this, even at the highest levels of the US government because it is viewed as a “soft issue”. A “hard issue” is the beheadings or a man thrown into a cage and lit on fire.
I am not going to get into a debate with the misery index on this because none of that sounds “hard” or “soft” to me. It all sounds really terrible. And it all sounds like torture. But it brings up a critical point, which is, we’re not using the right words to talk about this. And because we’re not using the right words, we are not taking rape as seriously as we do other crimes of war, crimes like poison gas or land mines. And because we’re not, the tactic continues to get used, and the perpetrators think they can get away with it. I’m not going to stand here and say, “Hey guess what, if we all start using the right words, we’re going to end rape and conflict forever” because we’re not. It’s just too effective and it’s easy and it’s cheap and that’s why it’s done in every conflict around the world. But what we can do is make it really difficult to get away with it. And we can do that by building on the judicial precedents already set by Akayesu and we can start prosecuting these things more vigorously and more frequently. We can also go to our governments and start saying, “Hey, maybe we ought to be looking at this more seriously and a little more frequently. And we can do that by using the right words.
Rape and conflict is an act of power. It’s an act of humiliation. And it’s an act of torture. Here’s what’s at stake with this. In the course of making this, we met a rape psychologist of the Democratic Republic of Congo and he told us that mankind has accomplished amazing things in the 20th and now into the 21st century. We’ve heard about some of them today, accomplishments in art, science, technology, but he said, “the persistence of rape in conflict, from a moral standpoint, represents a regression”. And he added, “Humanity better stand back up on that front if it wants to survive as a species”. Think about that. That’s what’s at stake here. We either embrace our humanity, and we move forward, or we fail. That’s rape’s “brand”. That’s why it’s everybody. Thank you.