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This list is not intended to document every instance of domestic violence or sexual assault in the movies. (Alas, that list would be infinitely long!) I only list works where the topic is a central story, and useful for discussion.
The Twilight Saga
I don't want to promote this movie by providing a link to it. For discussions on how vampire books and films romanticize domestic violence, please see:
Twilight and Abusive Relationships Official Blog of the Young Adult Library Services Association
Captain's Log - what do you see in him again? "According to the National Domestic Violence hotline, these are some signs that you may be in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship."
The Beautiful Undead London Review of Books
The Accused (1988) Amazon.com
Sarah Tobias (Jodi Foster) goes to her local bar and is gang-raped by three men. The district attorney on the case is Katheryn Murphy who wants to prove that although Sarah had taken drugs that night and was acting provocatively while in the bar, this is no reason for her to be so brutally attacked and the men responsible should be brought to justice.
Affliction (1999) Amazon.com
This is a painful depiction of a small town cop lost in a downward spiral of failure and anger...the "affliction" in the title is a legacy of family violence and abuse.
Bastard Out of Carolina (1996) Amazon.com
"This fine but shocking drama (which Ted Turner paid for and then refused to show on his cable outfits), based on the novel by Dorothy Allison, concerns extensive abuse endured by a girl (Jena Malone) at the hands of her stepfather (Ron Eldard), while her mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) looks the other way. "
Carousel (1956) Amazon.com
A romantic musical in which the "hero" is a batterer.
Crimes of the Heart (1986) Amazon.com
Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton play three southern sisters, one of whom shoots her abusive husband .
Enough. (2002) Amazon.com
An abused woman (Jennifer Lopez) discovers that the dream man she married wasn't whom she thought he was. She and her daughter try to escape (such as to her previous boyfriend), but he pursues relentlessly. Fearing also for the safety of her daughter, she decides that there's only one way out of the marriage: kill him.
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) Amazon.com
A woman who is unhappy with her life befriends an old lady in a nursing home and is enthralled by the tales she tells of people she used to know, including a lover who was the victim of domestic violence. Central to the tale is the mystery of the missing batterer.
Gaslight (1944) - Amazon.com
"Beautiful and trusting, Paula Anton is slowly tormented by mysterious happenings in her luxurious Victorian home. The suspect is her devoted husband. But viewing the world through the dim glow of the gaslight, it is difficult to tell what is real and what is imagined. " A classic depiction of psychological abuse, with an Oscar-winning performance by Ingrid Bergman.
Great Santini (1979) Amazon.com
"The four Meechum kids and their mother move from Marine post to Marine post, following their father, a pilot, in the peaceful years before the Vietnam war. Bull Meechum, the self-described "great Santini," is manic: a martinet at once enthusiastic and abusive of his family. "
Oliver! (1968) Amazon.com
It's not just the orphans who are the victims of abuse. The lovely song "As Long as He Needs Me," is sung by a battered woman who keeps forgiving her abuser.
Once Were Warriors (1994) Amazon.com
A family descended from Maori warriors is bedeviled by a violent father and the societal problems of being treated as outcasts.
Petulia (1968) Amazon.com
"In this fragmented love story, told in a nonlinear fashion that bounces back and forth in time, George C. Scott plays a newly divorced surgeon who meets a charming if scattered young woman, Petulia (Julie Christie). He falls into an affair with her, only to discover that she is married to a seemingly normal guy (Richard Chamberlain)--who also happens to be extremely abusive." Petulia is in a classic violent relationship where the beatings are followed by major contrition.
Precious (2010) Amazon.com
Based on the novel PUSH by Saffire, Claireece Precious Jones is physically and psychologically abused and neglected by her mother, raped by her father (and bears two of his children.) She is seemingly without promise of a future until she is transfered to an alternative school program where she receives the help and support - and appreciation - she needs. Though it had a small initial release, the film received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture (2010.)
Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) Amazon.com
Julia Roberts plays an abused wife who fakes her death and starts anew under a different identity in Iowa. Her psychopathic husband (Patrick Bergin) figures it out and stalks her and her new boyfriend (Kevin Anderson).
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) Amazon.com
The Taming of the Shrew (1967) Amazon.com
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) Amazon.com
Classic depiction of psychological abuse, with the victim in a wheelchair. Bette Davis, Joan Crawford.
What's Love Got to Do with It? (1993) Amazon.com
How Tina Turner rose to stardom with her abusive husband Ike Turner, and how she gained the courage to break free.
Made for TV
Black and Blue (True Stories Collection) Amazon.com
Based on a novel by Anna Quindlen (ONE TRUE THING), BLACK AND BLUE is a dramatic story that examines the fear and cruelty that surrounds domestic abuse. Frannie Benedetto (Mary Stuart Masterson) and her son Robert have fled their former home and move into a new neighborhood far away, adopting new identities in an effort to normalize their lives. They are fleeing from Robert's father Bobby (Anthony LaPaglia), whose position as a respected police detective prevents them from reporting his abusive nature to the authorities. But just as Frannie and Robert have managed to settle into their new community, making friends and finding hope, Robert's curiosity about his father may create an opportunity for Bobby to track down his former family and make them pay for fleeing him. BLACK AND BLUE boasts a talented cast and was directed by television veteran Paul Shapiro.
The Burning Bed Amazon.com
This film is based on the true story of Francine Hughes, a battered Michigan housewife who was prosecuted in 1977 for dousing her abusive husband with gasoline and setting him on fire as he slept. "This controversial, 1984 made-for-television movie gave Farrah Fawcett her first true showcase as an actress. Playing an abused wife who kills her monstrous husband (Paul Le Mat), Fawcett demonstrates a facility with the moral ambiguities of the story, which concerns the painful but fascinating questions of where justice lies. "
Dangerous Intentions Amazon.com
A man stalks his wife and child when they leave for an abused women's shelter. Donna Mills, Corben Bersen.
If Someone Had Known Amazon.com
"Katie Liner (Kellie Martin) is a teenaged girl with a bright future who is swept off her feet by an attractive, but dubious young man, Jimmy Pettit (Ivan Sergei). The two soon marry and live a storybook life on the outside. But, on the inside they live with a terrible secret he's physically abusive and she's too afraid to confide in anyone, especially her domineering father (Kevin Dobson), a police detective. When their son is born, the beatings increase in frequency due to Jimmy's jealousy over the baby. Yet, each time he apologizes and promises it will never happen again. Upon the impending birth of their second child, Katie realizes the situation will only get worse and makes an earnest attempt to leave her husband. When he threatens to kill her, she turns the tables and murders him in self defense. Faced with a life sentence, will a jury believe Katie's story and find her not guilty? "
No One Would Tell (1996, released on DVD 2005) Amazon.com
"Candace Cameron, Michelle Phillips, Fred Savage. A shy, sweet-sixteen highschooler hooks up with an athletic letterman, but finds herself trapped when he becomess possessive and violently jealous."
Shattered Dreams Amazon.com
"Charlotte marries John. Things seem ok; John has a good job and he's going up in the world, working for the government. But every so often he loses his temper and Charlotte gets the brunt of his anger. During the 18 year course of their marriage, there are at least 8 incidents of physical abuse and countless of mental. Charlotte's family and friends tell her to leave John but she keeps going back, most likely because he has convinced her that she would be nothing without him. It finally explodes in a big divorce battle balancing on the cases of abuse."
She Fought Alone Amazon.com
A young high school student is raped by a classmate. However, when word of the crime gets out, instead of condemning the rapist--a member of the school's championship football team--the other students jeer at and humiliate her, call her a "slut", accuse her of instigating the rape and pressure her to keep her mouth shut so "The Crew," as they call the football team, will still be able to play.
The Unspoken Truth Amazon.com
"She confessed to his deadly crime. Now, she's changed her mind. When Brianne (Lea Thompson, Caroline in the City) first met Clay (James Marshall, Alien Lockdown) she thought that her dreams had come true - but her problems were just beginning. Despite her parents' wishes, she marries him and the two soon have a daughter. Clay's violent behavior boils over when he sees a man talking to Brianne. In a fit of jealous rage, Clay shoots him dead. To avoid losing their freedom and each other, the couple decides to lie, claiming that Brianne shot the man by accident. However, the plan backfires and they both go to prison for life sentences. At first, Brianne believes that her love for her husband can prevail. But, when her father dies and authorities threaten to take away custody of her daughter, she's learns a horrible truth about her past. Her decision provides the heart-wrenching climax of this story. "
Documentaries & Short Films
The Invisible War Docudrama, 2012 Amazon.com
"The Invisible War, directed by Kirby Dick, shines a light on one of America's most shocking occurrences--the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the armed services. And when some victims--men and women--have come forward to report the crimes, the victims often face a second assault: commanding officers who either don't believe them or who refuse to do anything about the crime. The Invisible War traces the stories of several soldiers who have been subjected to sexual assault or rape, and their stories are just heartbreaking. One feels a sense of little hope, and yet after The Invisible War aired at Sundance in 2012, it won the Audience Award--and press coverage that began a military investigation into the ways each branch of the service handles sexual assaults. One statistic alone is shocking: more than 20 percent of active-duty servicewomen are sexually assaulted. The extras included are moving audio commentaries from the director and from producer Amy Ziering, outtakes from some of the interviews, a riveting Q and A session from Sundance after the film aired, and scenes of posttraumatic stress disorder treatment and a retreat for assault survivors. The Invisible War, though at times difficult to watch, is an important film, and one that anyone with any loved ones in the service--as well as all other Americans--simply must commit to watch. And commit to change the existing reality. --A.T. Hurley"
Sin By Silence
Inside the California Institution for Women, the first inmate initiated and led group in U.S. prison history, shatters the misconceptions of domestic violence. Convicted Women Against Abuse (CWAA) was created in 1989 to help women inside prison break the silence about abuse and learn more about what they needed to do to help others stop the cycle of violence.
Instead of fighting a system that does not fully comprehend the complexities of abuse, the women of CWAA led an initiative to help educate the system. Through careful orchestration of letter writing campaigns, media coverage, and senate hearings a movement was born and laws for battered women were changed. And for the founder of CWAA, the flicker of hope begins to grow as her possible freedom, after 26 years in prison, lies moments away. Related articles
Defending Our Lives Cambridge Documentary Films
"The women in the documentary are members of 'Battered Women Fighting Back!' a grass-roots organization dedicated to exposing domestic violence as a critical human rights violation threatening the majority of the population: women and children. 'Battered Women Fighting Back!' began as a prison support group for battered women who had killed their abusers, and with the support of human rights activist, Stacey Kabat, developed into a community-based task force of over 100 volunteers."
A Jury of Her Peers Women Make Movies
"On a desolate American farm in the early 1900's, a farmer is found murdered in his sleep and his wife is jailed as the prime suspect. The highly anticipated re-release of this feminist film classic, a powerful adaptation of the 1917 Susan Glaspell short story, A JURY OF HER PEERS presents a riveting tale of revenge, justice and women's shared experience. Equally relevant in women's studies courses and for use with organizations battling violence against women, this riveting film probes the notion of women's victimization and justifiable homicide and opens the possibility for the creation of an alternate, feminist justice and judgment.
"Two women, a neighbor and the sheriff's wife, find themselves in the accused woman's kitchen while the prosecuting attorney and their husbands search the farm for motive for the crime. As the camera lingers on small details in the kitchen spilled sugar, a broken chair, crooked stitches in a quilt piece the motive becomes clear as the suspect's isolated life of physical and emotional abuse is revealed. As each new clue further incriminates the accused, the women must decide whether to reveal the evidence against her and become, in effect, a jury of her peers."
V-Day - Until the Violence Stops (2005) Amazon.com
Extraordinarily empowering and heartbreakingly funny, the Sundance favorite V-DAY: UNTIL THE VIOLENCE STOPS chronicles how Eve Ensler's hit Broadway solo show The Vagina Monologues grew into V-Day, an international grassroots movement to stop violence against women and girls. The first of its kind, The Vagina Monologues has been widely recognized as "a celebration of women's sexuality and a condemnation of its violation" (The New York Times) and praised as "frank, humorous and moving" (Chicago Tribune). Over eight hundred cities around the world have participated in V-Day by staging benefit performances of The Vagina Monologues. From locales as diverse as New York, the Phillippines and Kenya, director Abby Epstein's UNTIL THE VIOLENCE STOPS features emotionally charged interviews and readings by everyday and celebrity women (including Rosie Perez, Salma Hayek, Rosario Dawson, Jane Fonda and LisaGay Hamilton), all of whom courageously reveal their intimate experiences and bond together to break the silence that surrounds abuse. More than just a group testimonial, UNTIL THE VIOLENCE STOPS is a moving celebration of community awareness that leaves us with the hope that change can happen.