The birth of my beautiful niece Amelia served as the catalyst for disclosing sexual abuse I experienced as a child. Sometime before her first birthday, I saw a photo of her next to my grandfather. That was the moment I decided that Amelia would know strength, truth and beauty.
My grandfather was a Baptist minister, a pillar for our family and community. He taught me right from wrong, and the importance of compassion and public service. He was strict, but incredibly charismatic. He was a jolly character in the lives of his grandchildren - the kind of grandfather you pulled pranks on, like braiding his hair when he’d fall asleep. He’d always pretend he was surprised when he woke up.
My grandfather also began to sexually abuse me when I was nine years old. I never spoke of what he did to me as a child. In fact, the others never did either until I came forward with the truth in 2014.
Two decades after the abuse, I realized I was living with the effects of trauma, the harm he caused, and how it continued to permeate many aspects of my life. Yet, when I began to tell my story in 2014, my life changed for the better. I faced a fear so great that I empowered myself.
In the time that I began to expose the violence and sexual abuse in my family’s past, I also began to experience significant hearing loss. And as a result, I entered a new form of isolation that took me inwards. I often found myself deep in thought while everything moved around me—examining my emotions or considering my experience. This loss created a space that brought depth, meaning, and beauty.
I found beauty in myself and my life - a beauty that was silenced until my strength brought it forward. Another thing happened: my brain began to create sounds to compensate for the loss. To fight the silence.
Using my family’s super 8 archive - silent home movies - and my background in audio documentary production and sound art, I will produce this work with an experimental approach that brings forth my voice and the voices of family members. This film will also incorporate sound design that mimic the sounds I constantly hear because of the hearing loss. Silent Beauty will become a rich tapestry of sounds and voices that explores what my family went through and who helped me find healing in this process.
Silent Beauty was selected to participate in the 2016 New Orleans Film Festival’s Pitch Perfect, and was awarded the 2017 Third Coast Residency at Ragdale, the 2017 New Orleans Film Society Emerging Voices Mentorship, and the 2018 UnionDocs Summer Documentary Lab.
This film will be made available to audiences in English and Spanish.
Special thanks to Elizabeth Slater, Shea Spampneto, Amanda Tonkovich and Stephanie M. Peña for guiding me through the process of understanding trauma, loss, and my experience. Thanks to Detective Knore for encouraging me to believe in my strength and truth.