NO! The Rape Documentary Critically Examines the Realities of Sexual Assault Within African American Communities

“The way out is to tell,” said Aishah Shahidah Simmons, on the need to acknowledge and address violence against African American women. Simmons said this in the conversation following the screening of her groundbreaking film “NO! The Rape Documentary” in Cornerstone last Thursday night. It was a well-attended event, though the audience was predominately female.

The award-winning, internationally renowned film explores the international realities of heterosexual rape and sexual assault through first-person testimonies, scholarship, spirituality, activism, and cultural works of African Americans. “NO!” features powerful performances from poets and riveting accounts from African American female survivors who defy victimization.

The screening was hosted in the I.D.E.A space and connects with themes presented in the current exhibit entitled, “Beyond Mammy, Jezebel, and Sapphire: Reclaiming Images of Black Women.” The exhibit calls into question archetypes of black femininity and challenges cultural perceptions of women of color.

Following similar objectives the documentary “NO!” educates audiences about intersectionality of rape and sexual assault. “It is important for audiences to appreciate the film’s focus on black communities, especially black women. I always find that such work can be especially—albeit not exclusively—appreciated through a black feminist and womanist lens,” said Feminist and Gender Studies Professor Heidi Lewis on the film’s significant message.

A rape and incest survivor, Simmons has participated in extensive activism, cultural studies, and international lectures, and has been published in a wide range of media outlets. Most recently as the 2015-18 Just Beginnings Collaborative Fellow, Simmons is developing #LoveWITHAccountability, a project which examines how accountability is a crucial form of love in confronting child sexual abuse (CSA) and how the silence around CSA within familial institutions creates a culture of sexual violence in other institutions.

Simmons wrote, produced, and directed “NO!” over a period of 12 years. The project was extended due to lack of funding and finally released at the 2006 Pan-African Film Festival to wide acclaim. Although she was at the heart of “NO!,” Simmons maintains that it was a very collaborative project, with an all-female crew—all women of color except two.

The process of making “NO!” was a very personal and, at times, difficult journey for Simmons, although she wouldn’t take back any of it. “In making ‘NO!’ I saved myself,” said Simmons.

Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Color Purple said, “If the black community in the Americas and in the world would save itself, it must complete the work that [NO!] begins.” The documentary is a black feminist and educational tool that provides an interdisciplinary context with which to study sexual assault in American culture.

“NO!” considers interracial rape and sexual assault, opening the door to examine these significant issues within African American communities. “We are taught that we are first black, then women,” said Simmons, expressing the paradox many attested to in the film. The priority gets placed on the battle against racism, leaving the issue of violence against women of color as secondary. There is no defined solution to this problem; however, one way the CC community can spark change is to bring these issues to the forefront and seriously consider messages within films such as “NO!” The documentary educates audiences on the issues of interracial sexual assault and moreover, calls upon them to recognize the silence surrounding violence against women of color.

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