At the Heart of Gold: a Story of Strength and Survival
THE OPAL CLUB x TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL
I don’t think I have cried this hard over a film in my whole life. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an audience of mostly men weep this hard over any film in my whole life. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.
Erin Lee Carr’s documentary At the Heart of Gold meticulously tells all the interweaving and horrifying details of the sexual assault of hundreds of girls by rapist and predator Lawrence G. Nassar, the former doctor for the American gymnastics team.
Nassar’s victims - and this will be the last time I will refer to them as such, tell their own stories and bravely face the camera to talk about some of the most horrifying parts of their lives, so that with their strength, those who are too frightened to come forward can feel like they are not alone, can feel like it is not their fault, can feel like there is hope. They tell their stories with voices whose strength cannot go unnoticed: they are not the hollow voices of those who have seen the place where you go when everything you are is taken away from you.
They are the clear voices of those who saw that place, refused to accept it as a new home, and came back.
I will not spend a lot of time talking about Nassar or his crimes in this article. If you are reading for the details because the documentary is not available to you as the friend’s friend whose HBO account you were using changed the password, you may stop reading and go find the details of the terrifying abuse somewhere else. (And get your own HBO account, even if it’s just to watch Erin Lee Carr’s masterpiece.)
What I want to talk about in this article is the survivors.
Every single woman who has come forward in this case is the strongest woman I know.
But before I do that, I have only one thing to say about the details of the case. Namely, Nassar’s lawyer Shannon Smith, who not only was headstrong in defending Nassar in court, but who also appeared in Carr’s documentary, seemingly still trapped in her nonsensical defense of her pedophile client. At one point during the documentary, when it was revealed that Nassar had 36,000 images of child pornography on his computer.
What did Shannon Smith say to that? She said that wasn’t even a lot.
Something huge that I took away from Carr’s documentary was how women can be just as easily complicit in the disempowerment and the disenfranchisement of women’s voices. I see this every day working as an editor of a magazine that focuses on women’s stories. There are so many women who have internalized misogyny to such a degree that they view their fellow women as enemies, negative competition, liars, sluts, less-than bitches, etc. Some of these girls brought up their concerns to female coaches…who in turn gaslighted them. If they were listened to from the very beginning, hundreds of girls could have been saved.
As a victim of sexual assault and a former ballet dancer and gymnast myself, this documentary hit very close to home. I saw my own ballet PTSD ( the forced stretching, the soldier mentality, the emotional abuse) echoed in those girls, who, from an early age, were taught that their bodies are not entirely their own. Their voices, upon speaking up, were quickly silenced. And what was left?
As someone who saw the inside of this industry from within two countries (Russia & USA), I believe I understand an added depth to why their collective story is so important. They managed to climb out of a system that was created to make them see themselves as nothing but a replaceable body made for winning and being judged.
The army of soldiers this system created fought, in the end, for what is right.
So, to me, this was not really a documentary about being a victim. Instead, this was a demonstration of strength and remaining faith in the good in yourself and others. Seeing those girls in their glittery dresses at the premiere, all sparkle and glowing joy, gave me so much happiness and hope.
The voices of these girls and women spoke not only for themselves, but for every single person out there who has had their body made a stranger to them by someone vile.
You have spoken for millions of survivors and changed this world for the better.
So, thank you. To every single survivor and Erin Lee Carr, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.