Rough Aunties

Rough Aunties
Editor’s Note: I’ve decided to begin post­ing some reviews of films screen­ing at Hot Docs 2009 early, hope­fully help­ing any­one attend­ing make some decisions about what to see. Rough Aunties is screen­ing on Tuesday May 5 at 6:30pm at the Bloor Cinema and Wednesday May 6 at 11:00am at the Isabel Bader Theatre.

Rough Aunties (Director: Kim Longinotto): The line between work and home is very thin indeed for the women of Operation Bobbi Bear in Durban, South Africa. This mul­tiracial group invest­ig­ate the most hor­rific cases of child sexual and phys­ical abuse, provid­ing coun­sel­ing and mak­ing sure the per­pet­rat­ors are pro­sec­uted, even in the face of bur­eau­cratic indif­fer­ence. Some of the testi­mony is extremely hard to listen to, but these women have heard it all, and con­tinue to come to work, even when their own home lives become chaotic.

In fact, a good por­tion of the film is ded­ic­ated to some of the tra­gedies that befall two of the “rough aunties” and it drives home the fact that these women are just as vul­ner­able as the fam­il­ies they serve. Many of them have come out of situ­ations where they were raped and beaten, and they bring their own pain to work every day. Though it’s not clear from the film, the organization’s founder Jackie Branfield, though white, did not grow up in the priv­ileged envir­on­ment that one might sus­pect. In fact, though the organ­iz­a­tion is made up of both blacks and whites, it’s a thor­oughly blue-col­lar group, where the women have often had to struggle to raise their chil­dren by them­selves.

If there is any weak­nesss in the film itself, it’s that some of the details are left out. We’re sort of thrown in mid-story and there isn’t a lot of con­text around where the organ­iz­a­tion came from and the full scope of the work it does. While that makes the story emo­tion­ally involving, it leaves out a lot of inform­a­tion that might make the char­ac­ters even more inter­est­ing. I think it would also have been help­ful to place the seem­ingly com­mon prac­tice of child rape into a cul­tural con­text. In AIDS-rav­aged South Africa, there is a rampant (if ludicrous) belief that hav­ing sex with a vir­gin (even a child or a baby) will cure the dis­ease. Of course, you can see how this can cre­ate a hor­rific epi­demic of sexual abuse; and yet, no men­tion of this is made in the film.

This lack of con­text also makes it appear that these women are fight­ing a los­ing battle. It would have been inter­est­ing to con­nect their work with some of the other work being done to address the AIDS crisis in South Africa. Also, Operation Bobbi Bear has achieved some remark­able legal vic­tor­ies, includ­ing the abil­ity for rape vic­tims to access post-expos­ure pro­phy­laxis HIV med­ic­a­tion that can cut the risk of infec­tion by up to 80%. Some of this good news would have been wel­come after see­ing some of the things these cour­ageous women face on a daily basis.

Official site of the film

A clip from the film


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One Response to Rough Aunties

  1. stacey murphy says:

    i know these women they are firm fear­less and fair , they will take any pred­ator of chil­dren down no mat­ter what it takes ‚then hold their arms wide open to invite and enfold a child to just rest cry and be loved . chil­dren melt relax and embrace safety and love in their arms .. thank you for your com­ments these women will fight and die for each other .i have worked with them as a vol­len­teer and been healed by them

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