As a filmmaker whose current work focuses on sexual abuse, I’ve often been asked why I tell stories about what some people consider to be unspeakable.
I can answer easily: Journalists need to tell stories that are in the public interest. I want to give voice to alleged victims’ claims and contribute to legislative change so they can have their days in court.
Recently, in the aftermath of Surviving R. Kelly, I’ve watched R. Kelly’s accusers be both embraced and bashed. I’ve seen series producer dream hampton simultaneously praised and criticized for how the six installments asked questions and for what—and who—was included and who was not.
Telling these kinds of stories is difficult—with the questions of why you are doing it and whether it’s a money grab, the threat of violence, and the challenges inherent to making a film from the raw material of allegations.
I know this well since I’m in the process of producing Trapped in a Culture, a documentary on child sexual abuse allegations against Afrika Bambaataa, who is considered one of the founding fathers of hip-hop. In the 1980s, Bambaataa’s DJing at community centers in the Bronx brought together aspiring DJs, dancers, and rappers. With the release of his hit record “Planet Rock” in 1982, he became a hometown celebrity. My film documents the accounts of several men who say he abused them when they were minors between the 1970s and 1990s.
Vetting these stories is mandatory. Like many people, I first heard the allegations online. Hearing them in person was difficult. But the men in my film were open about their claims, and as often is the case, the journalist is not the first to know. All