The movie The Tale, written and directed by Jennifer Fox, confronts the issue of childhood sexual abuse by a trusted adult. The Tale is what its director Fox refers to as “historical fiction” because it is based on her life experience, although she admits to having taken certain creative liberties.
The movie begins with Jennifer (played by Laura Dern) receiving a story she wrote as a 13-year-old girl (played by Isabelle Nélisse). Her mother finds the story during a move. Now 48, Jenny reads the story and begins putting the pieces together of abuse she experienced as a child from her horseback riding coach and her track coach.
This film is graphic, but it is useful to see the calculated behavior of grooming by adults in positions of trust and power. Fox shares the experience of restless nights with the viewer, trying to put the pieces of memories together that a mind has buried. While watching, it is important to remember this is one person’s experience with childhood sexual trauma, but it isn’t everyone’s. We need to honor survivor’s experiences and recognize how this trauma can be compounded by institutional oppression and many other factors.
Under Fox's direction, the film does an excellent job of portraying how methodical Mrs. G and Bill’s predatory behavior is. But the film also does a good job of conveying why they chose to prey on Jenny. They found vulnerability in a bright, young person who was unhappy in her home life. They give the illusion of offering her a world where she can be expressive and free, where she can feel deeply and honestly.
Unfortunately, The Tale helps illustrate that societal beliefs about childhood sexual abuse haven’t changed nearly enough. We still teach kids “stranger danger,” for example. Conversations about boundaries and consent often overlook trusted adults in young people’s lives. The reality is that more often than not, the person who commits sexual abuse is someone in the child’s life, someone who the child knows.
It is important to teach every person that they have the right to have their boundaries be respected. We should also be teaching young people to trust their instincts with their own boundaries and to always respect other people’s boundaries. It is never too early for these lessons to begin.
If you want to watch The Tale, it's available for streaming on HBO.com. Trigger warning: the film contains elements of sexual violence that may be disturbing for some viewers.
Charlie is an experienced training coordinator and community organizer with a demonstrated history of working in the non-profit industry. He is skilled in public speaking, crisis intervention, case management, community outreach and engagement, as well as graphic design. Charlie is extensively trained in health promotion and prevention education, trauma-informed care, and working with diverse client populations. He joined the anti-violence movement in 2012 as an intern at the Sexual Assault Prevention Program in Athens, OH.
Have you seen this movie and have thoughts of your own? Email Charlie at firstname.lastname@example.org!