“Unwatchable” …and pretty “Unhelpful”

I can kind of say I “know about” rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’m not an expert on DRC by any means, but I’ve certainly read enough to know that it is happening.

Does “knowing about” rape in the DRC make me very sad? Yes.

Does “knowing about” it make me feel like the world is an evil place sometimes? Yes.

Does it blow my mind that humans endure or perpetrate this type of brutality? Yes.

Does it make me wonder what is underlying it, why it happens and what are all the complexities that surround it? Yes.

Does it make me wish that there were a way to help make it stop? Yes.

Has anyone offered a viable solution for someone like me to help stop it? Not really.

“Knowing about” and “caring about” don’t equal “having identified the right thing to do about.”

A new short film is out called “Unwatchable.” This film assumes that the reason people don’t do more about the situation in the DRC is that they don’t know about it or don’t empathize with it because it is happening to people in the DRC.

To remedy that, “Unwatchable” re-enacts a true story that happened to a family in the DRC, setting it the UK. The premise is that if we watch the same horrifying things happening to a white family in the UK, we will “know about” what is happening in the DRC, and then we will “care about” it enough to “do something about” it by signing a petition to “stop rape minerals”.

So, does watching a horrific short film about a white British family being brutalized help me empathize with families in the DRC? No.

Does it help me better understand the situation in the DRC? No.

Does it move me to do something about violence in the DRC? No.

Does it offer me a solution or a viable way to help stop violence in the DRC? Not really.

To start with, I actually can’t even remember who the organization is behind the film. All I remember is  some helicopters, a man with a bloody groin, lots of screaming and men in military gear, a teen-aged girl in a school uniform forced back on the kitchen table with flour all over her face being gang raped with a gun, and a little girl in white running in the fields with some flowers.

And another thing – no matter whether the people portrayed in the film were Brits or Congolese or from wherever, I would have been disturbed by the images. So if the goal of the film is horrifying the viewer by showing something that is “unwatchable,” then yes, goal achieved.

But am I better informed? Do I empathize now? Not really. Instead, I feel alienated, traumatized and I want to look away. I feel hopeless.

Will a lot of people watch the “unwatchable?” Probably. (Especially since it’s getting a lot of criticism right now.)

Does it make a solid connection between this violence and “rape minerals”? Not really.

No sane person would approve of rape as a weapon of war. But the difficult part is knowing what is the best way to end it, and knowing if there is really a way that someone like you or me can do anything about it.

Is legislation against “rape minerals” the best way? Who knows? There’s certainly enough questioning about the recent advocacy work and legislation that achieved a ban on them to make you wonder if banning is anything like a real solution.

The thing is, you can “know about” what is happening in the DRC and be “against rape” and still not be convinced that a petition or a boycott or Dodd Frank  is the best way to end it.

So does “Unwatchable” add anything relevant to the debate or identify real solutions? Not really.

In addition to being unwatchable, I found it to be pretty “Unhelpful.”


About Shotgun Shack

INGO worker hailing from the crossroads of America, and so far from home in so many ways. I blog about life and the depths and ironies of INGO work. View all posts by Shotgun Shack

6 responses to ““Unwatchable” …and pretty “Unhelpful”

  • aidnography

    Not that I want to sound cynical, but it seems that the only purpose of the video is to encourage aid bloggers to write critical reviews about it. At least that’s the only purpose I can think of…’shock and awe’ PR of an organisation that will soon decend into the obscurity it came from only to be used as ‘bad practice’ in future presentations of aid academics…

  • Chelsey Lepage

    Thank you for this post – couldn’t agree more! I believe that shock/horror can ocasionally be an effective ‘call to action’, but is ultimately an unsustainable catalyst.

  • John

    Would just like to say, over the last 38 years I have worked in Cambodia, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and more recently the Eastern Congo. I’ve seen more war, death and human suffering than I care to say. You may find this film unhelpful but the people I both work with and care for, do not.

  • angelica

    the shock tactic was used (and abused) in the 80s…. don’t think it got us anywhere. now we can look at pictures of emaciated children and feel absolutely nothing. anyhow, anyone who goes to see that film already gives a damn, and frankly, I have enough of a hard time just knowing these things happen, I don’t need the images to go with it

  • Sarah Davitt (@SarahJDavitt)

    I think its part of the social change thing. Yes, its probably unhelpful. Its the sort of action that is memorable, but doesn’t inspire (or even propose) useful action.

    But at this point in feminism, and sexual freedom (in the west), I think there is room for remembering that this stuff happens, and its pretty intense, and really bring it home. And sometimes that sort of memory is enough action. Because I sure as heck don’t want a bunch of untrained interns coming down to the DRC to “save the women from rape” with freshman-level understanding of political science and gender politics, while “going native” and flaunting their power and possibility wrapped up in “doing good” and “authentic experience”.

    Sometimes that will cause someone to have a conversation to someone who has the networks, and that someone may have the ability to manifest something closer to change beyond another petition.

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