The Accused

Hi readers! I’m at the library right now. For Women’s History Month today, I want to post a few lines from Buddy Foster’s book, Foster Child: A Biography of Jodie Foster. Buddy is Jodie Foster’s older brother. In the following passages, he’s talking about The Accused, a 1988 movie in which Jodie Foster plays a rape victim, Sarah Tobias. Sarah was gang-raped at a bar while spectators cheered the rapists on, as if the rape was a sporting event. Jodie Foster won her first Academy Award for the role.

Page 184: Loosely based on a vicious gang rape that took place in a New Bedford, Massachusetts bar in the early eighties, The Accused is a harrowing tale of waitress Sarah Tobias’s struggle to regain her dignity in the face of her unrepentant tormentors and a seemingly callous judicial system.

I want to comment on this, for the cover of the VHS tape also says that Sarah Tobias was treated like a criminal when she was actually a victim. That’s probably why the movie was called The Accused—because the question in the movie is, “Who is the accused here?” Is it the rapists? The cheering onlookers? Or even Sarah Tobias, whom some people blamed for the rape, on account of her revealing clothing, her flirtation with the men, her dancing, and the fact that she was drunk and high during the event?

Personally, I didn’t think that the judicial system in the movie was horribly callous. A while back, I posted on the National Organization for Women’s proposals for how to handle rape cases. It said that female officers should investigate them because men aren’t particularly sensitive in this area, for they tend to blame the victim, as if she brought it on herself.

In The Accused, however, Sarah didn’t have to go to the police station and tell her story to skeptical male cops who were telling dirty jokes; rather, women examined and questioned her. Sarah had a female rape counselor, who was on the city payroll. Sure, the defense attorneys treated her in an insensitive manner, like she was the person on trial. (One was friendly, but the other was a jerk who made a big deal about Sarah crying “no” rather than “help” or “police.” Um, hello, “no” is what makes it a rape, for that’s where the lack of consent comes in.) But that’s part of our system: people have a right to a defense, especially when a conviction can wreck their lives.

Page 185: Sarah Tobias was a victim, but she was also one of Jodie’s heroines because she refused to allow the rapists to get away with it. She is a flawed character with rough edges and a foul mouth, who has a provocative SXY SADIE for a vanity license tag. But in Jodie’s rendering of the character, she finds an inner strength that elevates her, convincing a female prosecutor it is worth defying the odds to fight for justice. The performance was so convincing that mom, certainly a consummate Hollywood pro who knows it’s just make-believe, wept when she first saw the rape scene. “Sarah is not exactly a mature, intelligent, sophisticated role model,” says Jodie. “But she is human and is entitled to dignity and respect.”

I want to note: I read in this book—and Jodie Foster said on Biography—that the rape scene was so intense that even the actors were shaken by it. Buddy says on pages 177-178: When the [rape] scene was finally finished, she was bruised all over, as well as psychologically drained, but still found the strength and presence of mind to comfort the equally shaken men who played the rapists.

Page 186: Jodie’s hope was that even if The Accused was her last hurrah, the movie would change some women’s lives by giving them the strength to overcome the anguish of a sexual attack and would show men how devastating rape is for a woman.

This is an important point. Some may see The Accused and feel that Sarah was at least partly at fault for the rape, since she dressed and danced provocatively and flirted with the men. But she still said “no.” She didn’t want to have sex with the men right then and right there in the bar. She felt dehumanized and degraded by what those men did. And the rapists and the cheering onlookers were wrong to dehumanize her and to treat her solely as a sexual object, when she was a person with dignity who probably felt that she was just having fun when she danced and flirted.

Page 187: Jodie’s Accused Oscar speech was also a triumph. Unlike many actors who sputter drivel, Jodie succinctly expressed the reason the movie was made: “…And I’d like to thank all of my families, the tribes that I come from, the wonderful crew on The Accused…and most importantly my mother, Brandy, who taught me that all my finger paintings were Picassos and that I didn’t have to be afraid. And mostly that cruelty might be human, and it might be cultural, but it’s not acceptable, which is what this movie is about. Thank you so much.”

I like this quote because she thanks her mom for affirming her in her younger years. And she also makes a good point about cruelty being unacceptable, even if it’s human or cultural. When I first saw The Accused, an acquaintance told me that the men were acting according to their nature—their sex drive and desire to reproduce. I don’t think he was trying to justify the rape, but he was questioning my Christian insistence that people are more than highly-evolved animals. But having urges and a society that nods at them does not make cruelty acceptable. That’s something that I’m learning during these Days of Unleavened Bread: I may have a sinful nature, which inclines me in a certain direction, but sin is still unacceptable—to other people who get hurt, and also to God.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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1 Response to The Accused

  1. “I may have a sinful nature, which inclines me in a certain direction, but sin is still unacceptable—to other people who get hurt, and also to God.”



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