In Tarana Burke’s Ted Talk, the founder of the #MeToo movement describes how she came to that moment of clarity that launched a tidal wave of change. Growing up in the projects of the Bronx, she was raped and assaulted repeatedly as a child and teenager. As she got older, her mother encouraged her to get involved in the community to find healing from these experiences. While working in Alabama, she met a girl whose name was Heaven, who told her about being assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend. As Tarana silently listened, she didn’t know what to say, and while she would never meet her again, as she spoke, two words whispered inside Tarana: “Me too.” A few years later, as she was trying to raise awareness through social media, her hashtag opened a door for women to speak about the unspeakable.
We all know what’s happened since, but what also I found interesting about Tarana’s talk was that she made it clear sexual assault is not gender-exclusive.
Tarana wanted to open a door to all who have been abused against their will and suffered silently, to help give them a voice and the courage to speak out.
It’s hard to believe, but one in six men are sexually assaulted by the age of 18. That’s more than 22 million men in the U.S. By and large, despite how common this is, there is still a social stigma and silence surrounding it—we don’t talk about male abuse when we “celebrate” sexual assault awareness month. There is also a lack of awareness and understanding about the effects of these experiences, and common consequences can include rocky relationships and self-destructive behaviors.
Last year, my dear friend, actor Anthony Edwards (whom you may remember as Dr. Mark Greene from E.R. or Goose from Top Gun) asked if I would consider filming portions of an Off-Broadway show, an Obie Award-winning play called The Tricky Part. A few years before, he had spoken out for the first time about how a mentor crossed the line when he was just starting in the business as a teenager. Now a father of three, Anthony decided to come forward and speak publicly about his experience, and he thereby began the journey to heal the shame associated with this unwanted sexual experience.
Based on a memoir by Martin Moran, the one-man show The Tricky Part describes a three-year relationship Martin had at the age of 12 with his camp counselor. His play and performance garnered rave reviews in New York City, but Tony wanted to film portions of the show to use as a tool for 1in6.org, the organization he is now working with that helps men identify their experiences and provide resources to support a path towards healing.
As I found out, men are less likely to disclose these experiences then females. Men who have been sexually assaulted are at much greater risk than those who haven’t for serious mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, problems in intimate relationships and under achievement at school and work.
I knew none of this. I had not seen the show, nor had I read the book. But I knew Tony to be an extraordinary man, and so I said yes immediately. Once I did see the play I was knocked out by Martin’s story. He opens a door to a conversation that has been somewhat off limits, and it seemed to me that anyone who has been violated might find comfort and healing in his performance, as he invites you in and paints such an honest and accurate portrait. My immediate thought was to not just film a few scenes, but rather the entire show. And we did.
We completed a full feature film of The Tricky Part in January of this year. We had hoped to get it out to audiences and begin taking it to film festivals, a common route for independent films. We were moments from submitting it to festivals, when one-by-one they began announcing they were closing due to the coronavirus crisis. As April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, Tony suggested we spotlight male abuse, pivot to respond to the moment, get it out for people to see, and do a Live Stream Premiere of the film. The Tricky Part will now air this Thursday (April 30), followed by a live panel with Tony, Martin and me after the show.
If there is any possible upside to the world being put on pause, perhaps it’s that we now have time to reflect in ways we were unable to before.
Through the process of understanding this issue more, I’ve learned that the victims of assault are not just the individuals who have experienced it, but also their family members and loved ones. If “men don’t talk” about male abuse, during sexual assault awareness month or not, then the concentric circles of harm these experiences can generate can play out in a family, in a marriage, in a relationship, or a partnership. As unexamined issues, they get expressed, one way or the other—that is a clear message in all the research. So what I’ve discovered through the process of making this film, digesting the memoir and learning about the effects of shame is that while this is a story about a man’s journey, it is powerful for women, as well. Martin’s story is a way to open a door of understanding to the complexities of this kind of experience; he moves you and makes you laugh as he engages with his audience. He is a master storyteller.
I have worked as an actor since I was 4 and had the privilege of telling all kinds of stories, on film and on stage. Not everything has had a higher purpose—sometimes, it’s just about the escape or the distraction, honestly. I get that—especially now. I am also aware that we are all dealing with a great deal of complexity in the world at the moment, and distraction may be the most obvious response. But I know that we are innately social beings, and that beautifully crafted stories with heart and depth, shared in a theater with a group of others, is a way to remind us of our humanity.
A shared experience grounds us and reaffirms that we are not alone and gives us a common bond of feeling.
My journey to tell this story as a director, has brought me face to face with a lot of questions, opened doors in me that are surprising and layered. But mostly, as all great art can, it has elevated my perspective, opened my heart, and given me a window into understanding something that has stayed with me, long after the curtain has fallen. I am so grateful that Tony asked me to do this, and I am excited about the possibility of reaching more people with this captured on film. Our hope is that in the weeks and months to come, we will be able to announce the film hosted on a streaming site, on demand.
I look forward to that. But as of now, this event is live and for 1in6.org. It’s easy to share my passion for a subject that matters, beautifully told, in a world looking for ways to find a common bond. I would like to suggest that now more than ever, artists can lead the way to what the world needs most of all: Greater understanding of one other’s journey. The Tricky Part does that in spades.
Join 1in6 on Thursday, April 30th for 1in6 Presents: The Tricky Part! A free live virtual screening, followed by an interactive roundtable with actors Anthony Edwards, Raphael Sbarge, and Martin Moran. Dr. David Lisak and Patti Giggans of Peace Over Violence will also join moderator, 1in6 CEO Matthew Ennis. Stream live on Facebook or 1in6.org
Raphael Sbarge is a beloved actor, filmmaker and award winning director and producer. His last film, LA Foodways, aired on PBS. His production company Wishing Well Entertainment has produced films and videos all over the U.S and continues to tell stories of amazing people across all walks of life. SAS is honored to call Raphael a friend and we remain grateful for his vision in writing and directing, Divorce and Women: One Woman’s Unapologetic Journey.