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Shattering the silence

Tuesday July 16, 2013 Written by Published in Raro on my mind

In my effort to devote a column to each of the Film Raro productions, I’ve been privileged to watch and write about five outstanding films – films that evoke the sounds and smells of the Cook Islands, highlight the beauty of her people, and peer into sociological holes in her cultural fabric.

Today brings me to the last remaining film, Little Girl’s War Cry – an emotive journey through one family’s struggle with domestic violence. Like Tajinder Singh Hayer’s Islands, this film has an important story that desperately needs telling.

It’s a story that plays out in too many homes, a secret story most people are, quite understandably, afraid to divulge. Indeed, studies point to a cultural acceptance of violence against women among certain Pacific communities.

A 2007 study by the Pacific Islands Program for the Prevention of Domestic Violence describes the “culture(s) of shame and silence” that envelop violence against women in Polynesia. Cultural taboos discourage many women from talking about the violence they endure, and so it propagates beneath a shadow of silence.

A report issued by the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women observed in the islands “pervasive violence and a culture of secrecy which, combined with the effects of various cultural and socio-economic factors, including rapid social change, has led to increasing rates of violence.”

This is a stark reality that most people would prefer to overlook, but that filmmaker and director Erin Lau tackles head-on.

“Domestic violence continues to be a widespread issue that is often left unreported, not only in the Pacific, but also worldwide,” Lau wrote in an email to me this week.

“It is an issue that not only affects victims, but the lives of their families and communities as well. Although steps have been taken to tackle the problem in the Cook Islands, it still exists in silence.

“I hope to capture through this film, if even the slightest piece, the feelings and experiences children and women must endure in these cases, in hopes that it will move people to understand the seriousness of the issue and that in taking action, they can make a difference.”

I firmly believe media is a powerful change agent, and I believe Little Girl’s War Cry is a critical and inspiring call to action that we must heed.

The film takes us into the home of 10-year-old Tiare, whose mum Mii is a victim of violent aggression. We listen as Mii’s partner Petero slaps, hits, and yells at her, and as she begs him to stop between sobs.

To deal with the pain of watching her mum suffer, Tiare dons her superhero mask and cape and escapes into an imaginary world, one in which she has the power to stamp out violence. Out loud, she vows to fight for “justice and bravery” and to “defeat danger”.

Eventually, Tiare goes to Tangaroa for guidance. He gives her the strength to plead wordlessly with her mum to report Petero, and in the end, we watch the police cart him away. We then watch as Tiare removes her mask.

No longer is she pretending to be a superhero in a make-believe world. By taking action and by comforting her mum, she has become a real-life hero.

“The overarching main message I wanted to communicate was the overall importance of family and love,” Lau wrote.

“Despite our fears, challenges and personal conflicts, we should always be able to depend on family and do the same for them, whether it’s giving them strength, protection or love.

“Little Girl’s War Cry focused on the bond between a mother and daughter, and how one little girl had to find the strength within herself and confront the reality of the violence in her home to save her (mum) When she finally took off her mask and comforted her (mum), she became her mother’s hero. I want people to find inspiration in that idea.”

Though she is young and possesses no superhero powers, Tiare makes a dramatic difference in her mum’s life by convicting her and offering her support in the aftermath of a difficult decision. Lau wants us to understand that we are all capable of the same.

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