THIS AINT I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE: Rape in Black Speculative Fiction
For years, I worked as an expert witness on violent crime in Illinois and I am the founder of the NZINGA: Mother / Daughter Self-Defense Program, in which I taught rape awareness as part of the course. I say taught, because I have since given responsibilities of that program over to my wife and to the women who are Assistant Instructors under my tutelage.
Among African Americans, there is a reluctance to report rape and incest. A reluctance born of wariness of authority, especially white authority, which is learned from the experience of white lynch mobs; the death of four little girls killed during the bombing of a church in Birmingham and the battered body of young Emmett Till. There is reluctance, because we remember the destruction of entire cities – such as Tulsa, Oklahoma and Rosewood, Florida – at the hands of white mobs after a Black man was wrongfully accused of raping a white woman.
Historically, we have learned that the system is not to be trusted.
Rape is one of the most underreported violent crimes, according to the Department of Justice, regardless of the victim’s sex, age, race, ethnicity, religion or class, but as a group, African American women are the least likely to break the silence.
This phenomenon, first documented in 1981 by Gail Wyatt, a sexual behavior researcher at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, is now being addressed in self-help books and at rape crisis centers created specifically to serve People of Color, such as the Rosa Parks Sexual Assault Crisis Center in South Los Angeles.
I believe what I suffered, which I kept to myself for thirty years, led me to being sexually promiscuous at a very young age; to high blood pressure, which led to several strokes in 2012 and a bout with alcoholism. What I, three of my children and countless women I know, suffered also led to my portraying rapists, or potential rapists, as the vilest of villains in some of my writing.
It’s no secret that rape is common in fiction. Sometimes it’s relevant to the plot, often used as the catalyst in a revenge story. Other times rape is used to remind us that we live in a cruel world, filled with even crueler people. And other times, it is used to shock, or even titillate.
I don’t write much about rape. Only my latest book, A Single Link, actually has such a horrific event take place and in one of my screenplays, I hint that one of the villains is a rapist.
When I wrote A Single Link, which I first wrote, directed and produced as a film, I conferred with nearly fifty women of various ages. I asked if I had handled the rape intelligently, if it came off as a gimmick, or if it was predictable. They invariably answered “no,” and told me A Single Link was a story that needed to be told.
Many of the women – including my wife – gave suggestions on how I could make the story more believable; more like something they would want to see. I am glad I listened and made much needed changes based on their suggestions. The story went through fifteen drafts – more than I have ever done for any of my writing – before I was comfortable enough with the script to shoot it.
I am happy I did.
Many lazy writers use rape as a plot device in their stories because it is easy to use as a motivator for the shero to begin her quest. Well, for those who have known me for even a short while, you know I am far from lazy, so you know that was not my motivation (as one reader and part-time troll implied). She assumed my use of the rape is predictable…which is a predictable – and lazy – response, by the way (do your research – or at least read the book – before passing judgment, y’all).
However, to be fair, rape is often overused or misused in fiction; particularly in Science Fiction and Fantasy.
In fact, no violent act – assault; battery; terroristic threats; murder — should take place in a story unless it is integral to the plot or to develop characters. Any violence, for the sake of violence, is wrong and makes for poor writing.
A common statement that has been made is “Let’s see men get raped in fiction as well.” Once again, if it is handled intelligently and with empathy, why not? However, if such a story is told on some old ‘quid pro quo’ bull, then it is just as gimmicky; just as lazy; just as wrong.
Rape of men has happened in popular fiction a few times; most famously in Pulp Fiction, Deliverance and Antwone Fisher. Sadly, these rapes have been made jokes of by men and women, as if a man suffering a rape – especially if committed by a woman – has no lasting effect on men. This should be rectified, so I would welcome someone writing a story that deals with this issue seriously.
America has been described as a “rape culture” – an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence – and I would agree with that description.
A Single Link is my contribution to the fight against such a twisted, cruel culture that leaves my mother, my sisters, my daughters, and even my son, unsafe.
I pray I got it right.
Read the book and let me know.