Director seeks to help victims overcome trauma through her films

By Xie Wenting Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/18 22:26:35

Huang Ji and her daughter at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival Photo: IC

Women suffer an overwhelming and suffocating darkness that haunts their entire life after they are raped, says director Huang Ji.

After talking to more than 100 women of different ages who have been raped, the 33-year-old director sets a dark tone for her film trilogy, which attempts to explore how left-behind children struggle with sexual harassment and rape.

Her second feature, Foolish Bird, tells the story of a 16-year-old left-behind girl who is forced to struggle with financial problems, sexual violence and bullying, was premiered at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival and also won Special Mention at the Generation 14plus International Jury in February.

Her first feature, Egg and Stone, tells of a 14-year-old teenager left behind by her parents who becomes pregnant after being raped by her uncle. It won the 2012 International Film Festival Rotterdam's Tiger Award.

"Left-behind children are ignored in real life and their emotional needs are overlooked, which brings lots of problems both emotionally and physically. I want to show this to the public and speak out for them," Huang told the Global Times.

 "I don't want to make a judgment. I just want to portray how they feel and live through their life after sexual abuse," she added. 

Huang Ji looks attentively at her camera shooting Foolish Bird. Photo: IC

Breaking the taboo

Hailing from a small village in Central China's Hunan Province, Huang herself was a left-behind child as her parents were then working in South China's Guangdong Province.

Egg and Stone is a semi-autobiographical film, as she also suffered sexual abuse from her relatives during that period.

"I came from this group. So it's natural for me to tap into this topic," she said.

A statement from the Ministry of Civil Affairs revealed in 2016 China had 9.02 million left-behind children.

There are countless media reports of left-behind girls being sexually abused and raped. Without adequate sexual knowledge, some have to undergo abortions or become teenage mothers. But this topic is rarely seen in China's cinemas. 

Huang was unable to find investors for the films as several years were needed to complete filming and it was hard to bring high returns in a short period of time.

She chose a real left-behind girl who is studying in middle school as the main protagonist to give the film a more authentic feel.

For Huang, the most difficult part was facing her past and revisiting its dark side before and during shooting.

To gain courage, she even talked to the men who had inflicted harm on her and how she had suffered. "As a director, I need to jump out of my circle and look at these things from different aspects and different angles. So I need to talk to them," she said in her calm voice.

Huang's husband, Ryuji Otsuka, accepted her past and stood by her side as a cinematographer in the skeleton crew. She began to work with Otsuka at the age of 19 when she studied at the Beijing Film Academy.

Lingering questions

While the films won't be shown in major cinemas, they have been screened at different film exhibitions and workshops inside and outside of China.

According to Huang, foreign audiences care more about the fate of the girl in the film and are eager to find out more details of her story.

In comparison, many Chinese viewers saw the films as a reflection of social problems, not showing any interest in this particular personal story but thinking of it in terms of the bigger picture.

Personally, Huang said she hoped the film will encourage more women with similar experiences to talk about it and face up to their past.

"I don't want to see outsiders' analyses. What I want is to create discussions from people who have been sexually abused," she said.

The sense of shame and humiliation as well as society's discrimination against women who have been raped are holding women back from speaking out and seeking help. 

Last month, 26-year-old Taiwanese writer Lin Yi-han hanged herself in her bedroom after suffering depression for more than a decade after being raped by her teacher in middle school. Her death led to heated discussions online regarding women and sexual abuse.

Although Lin wrote about her experience in the best-selling book Fang Si Chi's First Love Paradise, she never dared to tell the public that this was her personal story, the truth being revealed by her parents only after she died.

Huang told the Global Times that this problem is more complicated for left-behind children.

Without their parents with them, they tend to make use of their bodies to build a connection with other people in order to gain a sense of security, she said.

"Better protecting them from being sexually abused needs the joint work of society, school and parents. They need more sex education and also society shouldn't view them as shameful," she said.

From her own experience, she feels that speaking out is the best method to overcome the trauma of rape. "Now I'm not afraid of other people gossiping about my experience. There is nothing to criticize," she said.

In Huang's interviews with more than 100 women, she learned that there was a general lack of psychological counseling for them, and it was hard for these victims to share their past with those close to them. "They really need psychological guidance," she said.

Huang now has a 4-year-old daughter, and spends most of her time taking caring of her, something that she longed for from her parents.

While her film work comes second to her daughter, she hopes that one day her work can be seen in mainstream cinemas across China. 
Newspaper headline: Facing the reality of rape

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