Every so often, when we are bombarded with the chilling statistics of victims from various conflicts around the world splattered across the pages of numerous reports, we are jolted with empathy, especially when it deals with acts of gross human brutalities. But, even then, it is almost always with a tinge of clinical pity for “those poor victims.”
And, once we close the pages of those reports, whatever pangs of empathy we may have felt quickly withers away as we turn our attention to the engrossing business of our daily lives while, in far too many instances, “those poor victims” are left all alone to endure the trauma of the tragedy they may have experienced.
This holds particularly true for many women who were raped during Liberia’s atrocious 14-year civil war. And, that rape and other forms of sexual violence was endemic and practiced by fighters from all the warring factions is hardly a fact to belabor, but capturing an accurate statistical scale of the victims has proven problematic because many victims have not come forward for fear of being ostracized.
That notwithstanding, based on analysis of findings from a 2004 study conducted by the United Nations Development Program, Amnesty International estimated that 60-70% of all women were victims of sexual violence during Liberia’s civil war in which over 250,000 persons lost their lives. (See report here)
But, despite 10 years of peace and the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first democratically-elected woman president, most of these women have borne the physical and psychological trauma of their sexual abuse in dejected silence without any support or for that matter, recourse for restitution.
In those few instances when vignettes of victims’ stories have littered the pages of various reports, to read them is to experience ones emotional sinews being
stretched to the limit.
“My hands and feet were tied up while five men were raping me. They also used cloth on a stick to wipe my vagina before another got on board. I have since developed bleeding and also I cannot have a child. Who really will take care of me? I want a child,” said one lady sobbing as she narrated her experience to interviewers in another survey conducted by the World Health Organization.
“The boys who raped me were very small that they couldn’t carry their guns. They raped me during one week. I am twice their mother. I feel ashamed to disclose what happened to me. I also feel that they laid a curse on me,” said another woman of her experience of being raped by child soldiers.
Probably the most comprehensive survey conducted on sexual gender-based violence during Liberia’s civil crisis, the WHO report, which is an aggregation of results from 6 of Liberia’s major counties, found that 73% of women had been raped, corroborating the high prevalence of rape during the war. (See report here)
The victims’ testimonials in the WHO report go from distressing to despicable. But that notwithstanding, and for far too long, these women have been cast into impersonal abstractions of statistical torpidity, so that in an almost uncannily cruel manner – unwittingly as it may be – the resonance of their agony has become muted as they suffer in deafening silence.
“The story of Moata who suffered tremendous abuse and trauma during Liberia’s devastating civil war stands as a symbol for so many of us who may have also experienced abuse and trauma, but we have to go beyond that and like Moata, accept that there is a reason why things happen in our lives and strive to forgive and move on.”Prince Whyee, Liberian Filmmaker
Ending The Deafening Silence With ‘The Blessed Curse’
But, with the release of his latest project: The Blessed Curse, a riveting movie about a Liberian woman who was gang-raped during that country’s civil carnage, a young Liberian filmmaker seems to want to give these women a voice and end the deafening silence.
Prinze Whyee, 28, who not only produced The Blessed Curse, but also wrote the script for the movie, appears to have borrowed from the playbook of the creators of Blood Diamond, the 2006 Hollywood-produced blockbuster about Sierra Leone’s civil war, which was fueled by so-called blood diamonds.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond puts a human face on the victims of that country’s civil war by telling the personal story of Solomon Vandy, a fisherman who is enslaved by rebel forces to work in a diamond pit. Vandy soon finds an extremely valuable diamond, but rather than turning it over to the rebels to sell and acquire more arms, he hides it. And, after Vandy’s village is attacked by rebel fighters and his son is abducted, drugged and trained as a child soldier, Vandy embarks on a treacherous journey to rescue his son. Along the way, he becomes embroiled with various individuals interested in acquiring the high-value diamond.
And, not unlike Blood Diamond which uses the the Sierra Leone civil war as its backdrop and depicts scenes of the brutal violence experienced by victims of that nation’s blood diamond-fueled conflict, so does Whyee also try to recreate scenes of the violence suffered by victims of Liberia’s civil war.
“I wanted to show the world what transpired in Liberia by depicting some of the horrible and inhumane things that people did to one another in Liberia. And, if by so doing, people watch it and are appalled, then we would have sent a message to the world that if a woman is treated in such an inhumane way, it should not be tolerated; and hopefully that will lead people to do what it takes to never allow such despicable acts to occur,” said Whyee of his motivation for depicting explicit violence in a pivotal scene of the movie when Moata, the film’s lead character, is caught by armed men and raped as she and her family try to escape through the jungle to reach safety in neighboring Sierra Leone.
In that critical scene of the movie when Moata is gang-raped, Whyee deftly avoids showing actual nudity which might border on the vulgar, but he skillfully executes various viewing angles with his camera that allow viewers to conjure up for themselves what is transpiring, while at the same time still achieving his aim to “show the horrible and inhumane things that people did to one another in Liberia.”
But Whyee still feels that he could have done more to depict a greater extend of the violence that Liberians were subjected to during their nation’s brutal civil war.
“I fell short of doing so because we never had the materials needed to accomplish this. We had also planned to shoot the Liberian scene in Liberia but because of limited funding, we could not travel to Liberia so we did what we could in America,” Whyee said.
By doing what they could in America, Whyee is referring to how he and his film crew ingeniously transformed their local Philadelphia area park into an African jungle to enact that pivotal scene. And, to Whyee’s credit, despite not having a Hollywood budget to work with, The Blessed Curse is nonetheless a poignantly gripping movie that overflows with a noble ambition to not only emancipate the victims of rape during Liberia’s civil conflict from the obscurity of statistical lethargy, but it also deals with such weighty themes as forgiveness and reconciliation to prick the consciences of audiences.
Promoted as being based on true events, The Blessed Curse packs together an impressive array of Liberian actors who have delivered a stellar performance for the camera. In that vein, Diamond Sonpon, the beautiful young Liberian actress who plays Moata, seems to have submersed herself into the role with uncommon gusto to create a captivating character who will definitely stir more than a tinge of clinical empathy in audiences.
Even though Moata had believed for years that she was barren because she could not bore a child for her husband, who is played by Anthony Khruah, she later discovers that, as a result of the rape, she had become pregnant. A movie bustling with religious undertones, Moata and her husband, both of whom are
devout Christians, wonder whether if by some incomprehensible divine twist, the child now growing in her womb was an answer to their many years of supplication to God for a child.
Moata and her husband decide to keep the child and later move to America to start a new life. But the trauma of her devastating experience doesn’t end. She struggles to carry on with her life and through various twists and turns in the movie, she tries to courageously press ahead.
But then, another tragedy strikes derailing her once again into uncharted territory when she later meets the now ex-rebel commander, played by Abraham Dahn, who had raped her and fathered her child. At this point of the movie, viewers are lobbed with yet another surprising twist, one that could appropriately be compared to a g-force roller-coaster lunge for which audiences will have to brace themselves.
But through all the nail-biting suspense and unexpected twists and turns, Whyee’s The Blessed Curse is one grand scheme to amplify those critical messages which are the driving force of the movie: people have the capacity to triumph over evil, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
A Symbol For How Post-War Liberia Can Forge Ahead?
“The story of Moata who suffered tremendous abuse and trauma during Liberia’s devastating civil war stands as a symbol for so many of us who may have also experienced abuse and trauma, but we have to go beyond that and like Moata, accept that there is a reason why things happen in our lives and strive to forgive and move on. That’s what Moata ultimately did and I’m hoping that people who watch this movie will get this critical message about reconciliation,” Whyee said.
And don’t think that Whyee is simply harping on about forgiveness and reconciliation because he may not have personally suffered the trauma of his country’s civil war. He did. And it is an experience that is indelibly etched in his memory.
“My experience of the war was the worst experience in my life because I was separated from my family after our community was overrun by rebel fighters. I remember walking for days with others to get to Ivory Coast. Along the way, we saw dead bodies littered on the side of the road and were stopped and interrogated at checkpoints,” Whyee recalled.
But, despite the many vicissitudes that he experienced as a refugee boy in Ivory Coast, Whyee believes that it was because of that experience that he was able to immigrate to the United States when his adoptive father sent for him to join him in the US. And, since arriving in the US, Whyee has tried to maximize the opportunities that America has to offer.
After completing high school, Whyee initially enrolled at Lincoln University to study Accounting and Business Management. But, hungry to pursue his passion for the arts, he later transferred to Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he took up Communications.
And upon graduating, Whyee decided to pursue his passion for filmmaking and in 2010, he founded Ducor Media Films, a multimedia production company.
Now, with The Blessed Curse, which is Whyee’s third independent production (his previous works include Killing Me Softly and Split Decisions), he is already working on a fourth project called Transition, which he says will still be an African-inspired story but one geared towards a more mainstream movie market.
As Whyee grows as a filmmaker, he also wants to return home one day to help other less fortunate Liberian youth.
“In the future, I hope to return to Liberia to establish an academy of the arts to help talented young Liberians learn the tools of the trade that they too may be able to realize their own dreams,” Whyee said.
For the moment though, with the release of The Blessed Curse, which is still premiering across the US, Whyee has taken an impressive forward lunge to realizing his own dreams of becoming not just one of the best Liberian filmmakers, but one of the best out of Africa.
To find out more about Whyee’s projects and show your support for him, you can follow him on Facebook.