- Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide
Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide


The Greatest Solipsism

By kristi on February 4, 2013

A film about rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), The Greatest Silence did a sweeping overview of the pain and suffering experienced by many Congolese women.  Interviewing a number of rape victims and rapists, the film paints the picture of the systemic problems that exist under the current regime of war.  When asked, the rapists contextualized the rape within the state of affairs, and claimed that without the backdrop of war, they would have no need to “take [these women] by force.”  Aside from recognizing the gender-based power structure, the film further points out that many found this constant sexual violence as a ‘patriotic’ act, a form of payment for doing service to the country, and therefore seen as justified.  Forcing the audience to confront this suffering, the film attempts to unmask the epidemic of sexual violence within the DRC.

So, you would think that these points of exposure would be considered the intent of the film…however with Lisa Jackson’s overwhelming compulsion to directly connect to these women and equation of her own experience to theirs, the film is clouded by her solipsism.  I understand that with limited understanding to an issue, any exposure is beneficial, however I wished that I walked away from the film with more insight on the victims in the DRC. When speaking of women who are shunned and brutalized by their own communities, Jackson also mentions her experience as leaving her “damaged goods,” essentially universalizing the shame of sexual violence, however vastly different the experience.  Though t I found myself weakening in my seat when hearing the monstrosities committed against these rape victims, Jackson’s perpetual need to invade on such intimate experiences (and let’s not forget, distribute nail polish and free sample fragrances), made the intention of the film ultimately about her own empowerment, and how she may draw strength from “a new definition of grace,” implying that she has started to achieve reconciliation…  I think this way of understanding also points to something larger.  Sometimes when traveling and documenting tragedy and horror, the ‘spectator’ seems to leave with more than he/she has brought.  Jackson remarked countless times how she felt helpless for these women, and yet she herself gained so much out of the experience.  But honestly, was to help really her intent?  I think she would have done better to recognize that amendments can’t be made with tokens from a Westernized community, and rather focus more on the women’s stories rather than constantly drawing connection to her own horrible experiences.  Moving forward, it is important to consider from what perspective we are analyzing systems and epidemics of violence, and how that viewpoint influences the way in which information is relayed.


  • Professor Thomson said:

    Great post, Kristi! She is clearly in the voyeur camp in your assessment then? It did feel extractive and really about Jackson, rather than rooted in respect for the agency and dignity of the Congolese women. Her appropriation of her voice is problematic, as is the lack of ethical engagement through Jackson’s choice of camera angles, interview style, etc, etc.

    A big sigh, is all I can muster!

  • kristi said:

    I would say definitely in the voyeur division. Especially when considering the way in which the documentary exposed and made so vulnerable the physical bodies of the rape victims, what made herself exempt from the same type of exposure? It seems as though in viewing the intensive repercussions of rape in the DRC–reconstructive surgery, bodily disfunction, etc–Jackson, on some level, came to deeper reconciliation of her own experience. In making the documentary, she is, yes, attempting to raise consciousness, but after returning does nothing to institute a plan of aid, leaving me at least with the impression that she got much more out of the experience. While the overall intent of the film is presented as exposing these issues, it seems as though her level of self-empowerment was most enriched.

  • kristi said:

    Oh, also in terms of ethical engagement in the interviews… particularly when she was speaking with the perpetrators and completely unaware of her own hypocritical, intellectualized questions of power v. sex. Her lack of consciousness of her own privilege and perspective was astounding.

  • ST said:

    Great points re ethics of Jackson’s interview style and content as well as her goal of consciousness. These are good points to keep in mind as we move forward to develop your own (hypothetical) interview protocol…

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