Film Review: Special

Ann P. Meredith
Director Ann P. Meredith

This feature film spreads awareness on sexual assault and the importance in finding the voice needed to fight.

There are so many things in this world that can make you shudder. Sometimes the negative outweighs the positive and we must look for guidance to remain grounded. Stories of sexual assault are heard around the globe. Rapes of young women, men, and children consume mainstream media and we always think of the horrors the victims must go through.

In the LGBTQ feature film, SPECIAL, five best friends are raped by their high school math teacher on five different occasions. Throughout the years the friends knew that they all shared a special bond that went deeper than most friendships. An opportunity to confront the man that destroyed a part of their lives has presented itself, so they must find the courage to break their silence in front of the town to let them know of the monster that walks among them.

SPECIAL’s award-winning lesbian/queer director, Ann P. Meredith, is a survivor of rape, sexual assault and a violent hate crime. She speaks to us about the importance of this film.

What made you decide to make a films about the horrors you went through in your past? Why do you think it was so important to create and why was the time now?

The time is now because people are finally open to hearing about sexual abuse and assault. It is in every medium, every day, thank goodness, and my heart is breaking over the young girls who are killing themselves after being filmed while being raped and the boys/perps are putting it on the internet—outrageous and an absolute crime.

My over 44 year in the arts has always been about using art, photography, video, film, performance and installation as a tool for personal, social and global change; to help to give an intimate face and voice to cultures and people who have been injured, hurt, persecuted, under-served and therefore under-recognized.

I had always written poetry, prose, some short stories about the abuse—that I kept pretty quiet about classic survivor protective behavior, but and when the really bad stuff came up about the family violence, I took a leap of faith and moved to New York in August of 1989 without out telling them. And…as New York will do for you—was given permission to start saying it all out loud.

I premiered a ‘scarier’ piece funded by Arts Matters Inc. inside the cavernous Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage called And No One Heard Me Scream and traveled it, to much acclaim.

People lined up after each performance: women, men, girls, boys, old, young, LGBTQ, straight; all disclosing to me that they too had been raped, hurt, beaten etc… and that they had never told anyone and had never gone for help. They were going home that night and telling their partners, wives, husbands, housemates and were going to call someone for help the next day.

I was totally blown away and it was terrifying, as well as deeply moving, to be honored to have people open up and share their secret with me. I was overwhelmed and knew I had to make a movie. Something bigger. Something that could reach many many more people and be of help.

I worked non-stop in New York day and night doing any and everything in any and all mediums to express the depth of my pain sorrow. One morning, in my prayer and meditation, I heard: ‘You need to set a no-contact from your father,’ who was one of the worst of my perpetrators.

The statute of limitations was way past for me and I had no legal recourse. The SOL must be changed and shortened because so many victims out of survivor mode don’t get their memories until much later. But I called a dear friend from Berkeley—I went to Berkeley in the ’60s—and Vicky, a Pi Beta Phi sorority sister is also my personal lawyer and knew my father and mother/also a perpetrator and said ‘Let’s do it!’

Literally within either 24 or 48 hours I was shaken awake in the middle of the night. I lived alone in my house rental in Cherry Grove on Fire Island, and heard, “Get a stack of blank paper and pens that work” and the script literally poured right out of me in screenplay format! Scared me to death! That Was January 15th 1999.

Were the events that happened in the film true to what happened to you? Did you have a circle of friends that were sexually abused by the same person?

SPECIAL is fiction…a character driven narrative. I am an incest, rape, date rape, MSA (Military Sexual Assault) and family violence survivor. Most everyone I know that is from my generation has had an experience with rape, date rape, incest—it was ‘the norm’ in the ’50s and ’60s.

What do you think the overall message is in SPECIAL? What can your viewers take away from your film?

That it is never too late, and that when you are, have been, are being hurt that your life changes instantly and you need to get help because it doesn’t go away…ever. We, you, everyone can begin to heal and help others begin to heal by speaking up and telling what happened to you, to them, by saying NO, by fighting back no matter when the abuse happened.

That everyone can speak up when they see or know someone else is being hurt. Rape and sexual abuse/assault is a power trip. The perpetrators are hurting you and they make you feel like it’s your fault, so you carry the burden of your own guilt and theirs.

I have been in Incest Survivors Anonymous for years and years and in the first meeting you begin by literally going around the room and saying out loud the name of your perpetrators…Freedom! That’s why SPECIAL’s logline is “Best friends for years, the women knew they shared a bond that went deeper than most.

Now an opportunity has presented itself for them to reclaim their stolen innocence through finding their voice and speaking the truth.”

The subject matter of the film is of one that many people can, sadly, relate to. Do you think it is important for them to see this film if they haven’t come to terms with their past? Do you think it may help them in some way?

Absolutely. The painful ramifications, which the lead actors talk about very specifically in SPECIAL, never go away even if you do ‘the work’. It’s a life-long job to heal from abuse. People who say ‘Get over it—that happened to you years ago’ don’t know what they are talking about. I am 66 years old, was in incest/rape therapy most of my life, and am still in 12–step recovery for over 30 years and still have new flashbacks and body memories.

It isn’t over. I’m no longer a victim, but the healthier I become; the more pain comes up to be lifted. That’s precisely why I am making the films: Sexual abuse and assault is at a pandemic level. Current stats: 1 out of every 4 girls and 1 out of every 6 boys will be sexually assaulted before they reach the age of 18. High school girls are 5 times more at risk for assault and 93% of them know their attackers.

Was it difficult shooting in only nine days with an all-volunteer cast and crew? Were there challenges and obstacles that had to be overcome to get the film made?

Yes. Sleep what is that? Hundreds of them, working at the hours that the locations were available to us. People were so kind and generous, using the equipment that was brought and getting it to match beforehand; again very giving, constantly having to replace cast and crew that walked away to a paying gig…oh my…freak out time…with no warning.

Just boom, gone. I’d finish shooting for the day and go to an electrical outlet in the one shopping center in town and plug in my lap top, could barely see, my eyes were so tired and send out emails to other actors who had expressed an interest.

I save everything/everyone’s info and value it because I cannot do the work I want and need to do without other people. We ended up with all types of actors and crew ages 19-79…very cool.

Being a survivor of rape, hate crimes, and sexual assault, do you consider yourself an advocate for women and others whom have had similar situations happen to them?

It is an honor and a privilege to make movies and art about others who have also been hurt. Yes, I am an advocate for equal rights for everyone. Especially those of us who have been silenced.