The month of September 2019 was traumatising – to say the least – for us. The murder of UCT student, Uyinene Mrwetyana- in a post office next to a police station- sparked nation-wide outrage and lead to the rise of the #AmINext movement.
The crisis of gender-based violence happening in our country hit like a tsunami. It is a uniquely South African issue: femicide rates in SA are reportedly five times higher than the global average. It is, essentially, a likely death sentence to be an African woman.
From this pain, however, in a uniquely beautiful and African way, I watched as protest art emerged. In independent short film, Hush, writer and director Talya Galasko aimed to tackle untold stories of gender-based violence in an attempt to #BreakTheSilence. “The politicisation of GBV has made it easy to frame these issues in ways that don’t allow for individual victims to be heard, while also mitigating responsibility from the individuals who perpetuate them”, Talya tells me.
“Without affecting individuals – getting them to look inward and reflect on their own attitudes and behaviour – I believe there is very little chance of further affecting change.”
“These are men who will call for the death penalty in one moment, and take advantage of a barely conscious woman in the next.”
What of the timing? “The film released a few weeks after the protests died down” Talya explains, “which I thought was also important, because the issues are not a trend, but remain a lived reality for women in SA. We need to keep the energy alive”.
“I wanted to start somewhere with something that made women feel heard and understood.”
Hush was a collaboration between a group of women and men, some of whom have been victims of sexual assault, who believe in sharing stories like these to provoke thought and meaningful conversation around the topic. “During the wake of resistance to GBV I found myself enraged by the very surface-level attempts I saw the men around me making in attempt to champion social justice”, Talya says.
“These are men who will call for the death penalty in one moment, and take advantage of a barely conscious woman in the next. I wanted to create something that would get male viewers and perpetrators to look inwards and question whether they have been in that bedroom before themselves; and whether they have friends in their group whose behaviour they condone and encourage – without thinking of the consequences.”
Creating Spaces of Healing
To be able to identify yourself in stories of survival is important in creating spaces of healing – as film lead, Nalu, says, “there are so many different types of victims”. However, “this is a narrative work”, says Talya, “so it naturally excludes a plethora of different experiences, but I wanted to start somewhere with something that made women feel heard and understood.”
“It was important just to give a voice to myself and victims of gender-based violence, and also to tell the stories that aren’t told, you know?” Nalu says of her decision to play the part. “The stories that happen when it’s in friendship circles, when it’s your friend or your friends boyfriend or whatever, who is in fact your abuser. These stories are often left out of the narratives because, firstly, there aren’t enough films or art on gender-based violence because it’s such a difficult thing to create on.”
Watch Hush now:
3Q’s with Nalu
Nuhaa: Was it hard to portray this role? What challenges did it present for you?
Nalu: It was incredibly, incredibly difficult to play this role… You want to put on a performance that touches people, that people can resonate with, and that feels real to people, otherwise the art isn’t powerful. In order to do that I think the biggest challenge was trying to make the assault scene as real as possible, and the way I did that was … literally putting myself back in the position that I was in during my own experiences, and channeling the emotions that I experienced and had to deal with in those moments – yoh, sorry, this is so emotional. That was a really big challenge, literally having to relive my trauma for the performance.
Nuhaa: Why did you think it was important to do this? What do you hope this film does for victims of gender-based violence?
Nalu: When Talya came to me with the film idea, I knew that … this was a huge, huge thing that I was doing. Essentially I would be telling the story of a lot of people – not only in the world but also specifically within the Cape Town setting, because this movie was portrayed very well as a Cape Town film. You felt like you were in Cape Town, at a house party, in Gardens when watching it, you know? It was a very powerful thing and I’m incredibly proud of myself for having been strong enough to do it and, you know, dealing with my triggers to be able to put on a performance like that.
“We just need to continue this practise of unlearning…”
[It’s important for victims to have] their story told in a way that it’s never been told before, in a way that’s relatable. When they watch the film they can be like: “Holy shit, this is exactly what happened to me, in this setting, with this type of guy, with these people around”. Because it’s happening in our homes, it’s happening in our friendship circles, at our parties, at our universities.
Nuhaa: Anything you want to say to viewers/potential viewers?
Nalu: Firstly, thank you – for opening up your heart to go through something like this, for watching this film, and having to deal with it and reflect on it. All these hidden intricate details of the film that people may resonate with is a very, very powerful connection that’s being made there and I can only have gratitude for the people who have watched it and the people who are going to watch it. Because having to make that connection and reflect on one’s own experiences is such a powerful and strong thing to do.
To the perpetrators who have watched this and shared it, and who have perpetuated that same thing – I don’t know how to say this… When it comes to, like, woke or socially conscious perpetrators – I don’t know what the fuck to call them – it’s a very painful realisation to have, I think. And we just need to continue this practise of unlearning, and I really hope [perpetrators] see the severity of the trauma that they’ve left with their victims and really, really do some introspection on that.
Because it’s needed – we really, really can’t afford to have another generation of men who are killing us and raping us. We can’t. We can’t. We will not exist any longer … honestly, that’s how simple it is. This dire need for us to unlearn these toxic practises and predatory behaviour of men, and this masculinity that’s actually just wiping us out.