By Charles Hallman
Eliaichi Kimaro’s need to fully understand her father’s culture later transformed a legacy project into a documentary on sexual violence.
A first-generation American with a Tanzanian father and Korean mother, Kimaro said in a recent phone interview with the MSR that she wrestled with “what culture am I going to pass down” to her children one day.
Despite nearly a baker’s dozen visits every other summer during her growing-up years to her father’s homeland, “I realize [that] I don’t know anything — all the visits to Tanzania I haven’t been paying attention,” she admitted. “I didn’t feel that I had anything real or [of] substance that I could pass down to my kids that would help them understand [their heritage]. When that thought hit me, that’s when the need came for me to go back and pay attention for a purpose.”
As a result, Kimaro’s seven-year project that “kept growing and evolving” became A Lot Like You, a documentary that premiered on PBS World channel’s AfroPoP series in January.
“Because it kept growing and evolving, I was able to grow and evolve along with the project,” noted Kimaro, a former social worker. “I think if I went into it thinking that I am going to make a documentary that I hope would air on public television one day, I would never have been able to make this movie.”
It originally was intended to be a “video project” on her family. “My thought was no nobler than that. I wanted my kids to see not only still pictures but also moving pictures so they can see…and hear my family tell the stories in their own native language. I’m not a filmmaker by trade,” she admitted.
A Lot Like You featured interviews with Kimaro’s aunts, who disclosed long-held secrets to her about the sexual abuse they endured.
“I never really had a very warm relationship with my aunts,” recalled Kimaro. “There always was a lot of friction and tension, and they were always standoffish. After I sat down and we had this conversation, there was this opening where for some reason, in that hut — my camera rolling and the lights shining on them — that was the moment when they broke through their silence, opened up and [spoke] very honestly.”
A sexual violence survivor herself, Kimaro now was able to relate with her aunts. They felt comfortable speaking to her, “realizing that they had open space to talk and share, and tell me the truth. They told me independently of each other. I was totally surprised…totally caught off guard.
“There’s the pain that they survived and the weight of sharing their stories…even more than that, the witnessing of the transformation that happens to my aunts after they shared their stories that is really compelling to people,” noted Kimaro of her film. “The issue of gender violence is particular to our particular community, but the issue of gender violence is prevalent all over the world.”
“It took me eight years” to film it, said Kimaro. She’s proud that her Tanzanian family members were able to see it as well — she showed it to them late last year. “My dad was the youngest of six kids. To take the movie back and show it to them — one aunt passed away before the film was done — where they could reconnect with their siblings was very powerful.”
One aunt afterwards stood up and repeated her horrific ordeal: “She really, really never believed that she would have the opportunity to share her story, the burden she have carried her whole life,” added Kimaro. “There is a certain liberation that comes when you have the space to speak the truth and you no longer carry around secrets and your own personal shame.”
She learned from making her film, “I’ve found the power of speaking one’s truth and the ripple effect it can have is quite tremendous.”
Kimaro hopes her film will help other sexual abuse victims find courage to tell their personal story. A Lot Like You “was a story I was meant to tell,” she pointed out. “It’s the story I was meant to tell…and I feel that I have still a lot more work to do. My goal next is how I can partner with nonprofit organizations that are working on issues that are addressed in the film.”
She especially wants to speak to girls, particularly girls of color “talking about the power of story — that their stories matter, and doing what I can to support them, giving them whatever tools I can to help them tell their story from their own perspective.
“Women and girls of color are often the object of someone else’s story, and not the subject of our own story. So whatever I can do to help them re-center the narrative of their own personal story, I think would be great.”
To view A Lot Like You online, go to http://blackpublicmedia.org/alotlikeyou.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.