Healing Gaia

Movies and Books that Explore and Illustrate Woman Abuse

Let's discuss some documentaries, movies, plays and books that illustrate the complexities of woman abuse, which really hinges on an abuser's need to maintain power and control over their intimate partner.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published November 08, 2016

November is Woman Abuse Prevention month in Ontario. It's a time to draw attention to all forms of gender based violence, but more importantly, it's an opportunity to educate the public about the pivotal role they can play in eradicating violence against women and girls.

To that end, let's discuss some documentaries, movies, plays and books that illustrate the complexities of woman abuse, which really hinges on an abuser's need to maintain power and control over their intimate partner.

Throughout the material, you'll also find ways that bystanders can safely intervene to help women recognize the abuse and find effective solutions to change their situation for the better.

Some of what you will see and read will shock you, but much of it will make you angry. Hopefully, this will be the start of much-needed discussions and calls to action to make the necessary societal and legal changes within Canada, and around the world, to ensure that women's rights are universally recognized as human rights.


The War at Home (2016; 44 minutes)

There's a war raging across Canada. It's silent, but deadly and involves extensive collateral damage. The destruction is aided and abetted by our current health care, criminal justice, family law and political systems. We all support this war by ignoring it, and that's just too easy to do because this one is fought in private havens that should provide sanctuary to every woman - their own homes.

Award-winning filmmaker Shelley Saywell created the incredibly intimate documentary The War at Home that examines the stark realities of intimate partner violence. Five strong, brave, articulate women share their wealth of knowledge and experience while showcasing the constant fear they live with on a daily basis.

Until you've experienced this type of abuse, you will never really understand IPV. These women have lived experience and that alone makes them the experts. Their voices need to be heard in order to end this form of gendered violence.

Banaz: A Love Story (2013; 1 hour 8 minutes)

Banaz was a 19 year old Kurdish woman living in England who finds herself forced into an abusive arranged marriage. Banaz knew full well that her life would be in danger whether she choose to stay with her abuser or leave to make a life for herself.

Despite her best efforts to get help, Banaz became another femicide statistic. Fortunately, her murderers were hunted down and prosecuted and there are caring people who keep her name alive.

The Apology (2016; 1 hour 44 minutes)

The Apology is the debut film of director Tiffany Hsiung. It's an emotionally packed, powerful Canadian documentary that looks at rape as a function of war. The all-female production team created a tribute to the women who were kidnapped and repeatedly raped during the Japanese occupation of their countries in World War II. These women were known as 'the comfort women.'

The Apology offers insightful glimpses into the lives of Grandma Gil from South Korea, Grandma Adela from the Philippines, and Grandma Cao from China. Instead of focusing on the depraved acts of their abusers or reliving the horrors these women subjected to, we are given the honour of watching these incredibly resilient women as they valiantly work to make the world a better place for all women and men.

All they ask in return is an official apology from the Japanese government.

The Witness (2015; 1 hour 29 minutes)

The Witness is a riveting documentary that introduces the world, for the first time ever, to the colourful, vivacious, multifaceted Catherine Susan Genovese. Better known as Kitty Genovese, this beautiful 28-year-old woman became the perennial icon for bystander apathy after her brutal attempted rape and murder in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York on March 13, 1964.

At least 38 people heard Kitty's screams for help during two separate knife attacks by the same assailant that spanned 30 minutes. We learn that neighbours had ample time to contact the police yet, official records show only one phone call received long after the assault had taken place. Only five witnesses were called to testify at her murder's trial.

The exploitation of Kitty became a noble lie for countering dissociation and social laziness. By making this film, Kitty's brother, Bill, reclaims her life. Kitty is no longer a silent victim. This is Bill's gift to Kitty's memory.

Difret (2014; 1 hour 39 minutes)

In the Ethiopian Amharic language, "Difret" can be interpreted as meaning "to dare" or "to have courage," but can also mean "to be violated" or raped. This film looks at the practice of child marriage which violates the basic human rights girls have to health, education, safety, and well-being. Globally, 14 million girls are married before the age of 18 annually. That means one girl every three seconds!

Difret is based on the true story of a 14 year old Ethiopian girl who is kidnapped and raped in order to force her into marriage. But, when the main character, Hirut, accidentally kills her intended husband it is not seen as an act of self-defense, but rather as murder. Hirut is put on trial with the foregone conclusion of the death penalty awaiting her.


The Cockwhisperer: A Love Story

Hamiltonian Collette Kendall perennially performs this one hour play at the Staircase Theatre during The Hamilton Fringe Festival each July.

The Story of one woman's quest to find the love and the penis of her dreams. Included amongst the humour is a very real portrayal of how women become trapped in abusive intimate partner relationships. To great applause, Collette's character eventually leaves her abuser and successfully moves on with her life.

The one downfall of the play is that it is over far too soon.


Moving between present day Montreal and Lebanon torn apart by civil war, the complicated life of a seemingly simple mother unfolds after her death as her adult children try to find the father and brother they have never met.

This amazing play looks at rape as a weapon of war.


In India, it is estimated that a woman is raped every 20 minutes. In Canada a woman is raped every 17 minutes.

On December 16, 2012, 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey went to a movie with a male friend. At 8:33 PM, they boarded a private bus to return home. During that ride Jyoti was gang raped by six men and her companion severely beaten. Both were dumped at the side of a highway. Fifteen days later Jyoti died from her injuries.

The Indian press, prevented from publishing the name of rape victims, called Jyoti Nirbhaya, which means "fearless" in Hindi.

Written and directed by the internationally acclaimed Yaël Farber, Nirbhaya was inspired by the events that took place on that December night, but it also draws extensively from the lived experiences of the six extraordinary cast members putting faces and voices to this global human rights issue.

The result is a very intimate and emotional 95 minutes that tears at your soul while demanding your undivided attention.


Crash, the debut play of Canadian Pamela Mala Sinha, deservedly won 4 Dora awards.

The one woman play intimately chronicles Mala's rape, in her own apartment while a first year university student, and the years of torment and healing that followed.

An abbreviated version of Crash was incorporated into the 2015 Toronto production of Nirbhaya.

Miss Julie

Miss Julie, written in 1888, is set on Midsummer's Eve on the estate of an aristocrat. Over the course of an evening spent in the household kitchen, Miss Julie encourages her father's valet, Jean, to seduce her.

Jean's fiancée, a maid named Christine, cooks and sleeps while Jean and Miss Julie talk and flirt.

In some productions the scene where Jean and Miss Julie consummate their relationship is played out as rape. After that scene, Jean tries to entice Miss Julie to run away with him and open a hotel. However, when Jean finds out that Miss Julie is penniless he convinces her to commit suicide because she has destroyed her reputation and chances for a socially acceptable marriage.


The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

Named for the myth that virgins could heal and cure terrible diseases, this novel set in 1871 Lower Manhattan chronicles the life of Moth.

At 12 years of age, Moth enters into servitude. When she eventually leaves her abusive mistress, Moth ends up living in a brothel.

Fortunately, Moth is befriended by Dr. Sadie who cares for the girls and young women working in the house and shows Moth that there can be more to life.

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Ojibway author Richard Wagamese details abuses endured at residential schools and the intergenerational effects that still shape the lives of Canada's Aboriginal people.

The Secret Sister by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Set in a rural village in India where female infanticide is common, The Secret Sister follows the life of one baby girl who is saved from death by her birth mother.

The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Divided between rural India and Dallas, Texas, this novel deals with the issues of arranged marriage and femicide.

American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar

Set in Milwaukee and Kansas, this story deals with intricacies of familial abuse within Muslim Pakistani families.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Atwood looks at futurist America where women have absolutely no rights.

Non-Fiction Books

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The Somali born author survived civil war, female mutilation, beatings, and forced marriage to become a member of the Dutch Parliament.

Unworthy Creature by Aruna Papp with Barbara Kay

Papp's autobiography chronicles her life as a Seventh Day Adventist born and raised in India and trapped in an abusive arranged marriage. Eventually, Papp comes to Canada and takes a cooking job at York University where she meets a professor who helps her change her life.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.


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