Power in storytelling: interview with filmmaker Nuala Cabral

When you search for videos about street harassment, Nuala Cabral’s film Walking Home is the second clip that comes up. Since 2009, it’s been viewed more than 23,000 times. I featured it on my blog soon after it went online and had hoped to interview Nuala for my book on street harassment. Things fell through at the time, but thanks to International Anti-Street Harassment Day planning, we’ve reconnected. This week Nuala graciously agreed to answer interview questions for my blog.

1. Stop Street Harassment (SSH): What’s a three sentence bio for you?

Nuala Cabral (NC): I’m an educator and filmmaker, currently teaching television production at Temple University, where I recently obtained my Master’s degree in Broadcasting, Telecommunications, and Mass Media. I’m the co-founder of the cooking blog Cool Cooks and co-founder of FAAN Mail, a media literacy and media activism project based in Philadelphia.

2. SSH: What inspired you to create your film Walking Home?

NC: Street harassment is a personal, political and universal issue that is often dismissed and tolerated. This is problematic and I wanted to do something about it. I’m a filmmaker– so I made a film. I like to use video and film to explore my frustrations and questions about the world.

Walking Home attempts to question and disrupt the acceptance and the pervasive silence around these everyday interactions.

3. SSH: Wonderful. I love seeing people tap into their talents to bring attention to this issue. How did you decide what to cover during the film?

NC: Walking Home is for the walkers, the talkers and those who say nothing. And thinking about these audiences shaped my decisions about my approach with this film.

I wanted to portray a diverse range of people, because street harassment is universal, just like all forms of violence. Including voices of several women explaining their names, signifies universality and solidarity. The smile “command” is something I definitely wanted to include.  Self-entitlement operates in interesting ways and I wanted to open that door for discussion.

4. SSH: It seems like you have. Since 2009, Walking Home has been viewed more than 23,000 times on YouTube and linked to on numerous websites. What kind of responses have you received from viewers?

NC: One man mentioned that unfortunately the men who need to see Walking Home will never see it.   But actually some male friends have said that the film has caused them to reconsider the way they approach women. Many of the responses come from women who have experienced street harassment; Walking Home resonates with them.  But there is one response that has stood out  (from someone I have never met). Here’s an excerpt: 

“ive been that girl (as we all have been, clearly), still am sometimes.  but that is not what this reminded me of right away.  it reminded me of walking down the street with my parents as a child, my mother looking straight ahead, my father hooting and hollering without care or regard for his wife and child, at one of those ‘nameless’ girls passing by. and he continued to do this for many years in front of my sister and i, though he implored us to respect ourselves.  how could we?

you did not ask for my life story, i do not mean to burden you with it. but your work brought to the forefront of my mind for the first time in many years that hurt, that anger which was never addressed and never healed. it really moved me, exactly what great art does

… i wanted to thank you for this piece. at this moment my heart is so heavy when i think of him doing this and the years of abuse that followed, but im grateful for it because it has reminded me that there is still a wound there. and now that i can no longer ignore it, i aim to mend it.”

5. SSH: Wow, that is powerful and something that isn’t often discussed: the pain women feel when they witness men in their lives engaging in street harassment. My next question is related, what benefits do you see in using film to work to end street harassment?

NC: There is power in storytelling. Film is a form of storytelling and it offers an opportunity to build understanding across differences, among people who may never communicate directly.  The benefit in using film is that when it’s done well, it makes people feel. And when it comes to street harassment, making people feel is a good start to helping them care about making a difference.

6. SSH: So true and every time I see your video posted, I see it accompanied by comments from people you have prompted to feel and think about this issue. Do you have plans to make any more films or other projects that address street harassment?

NC: Right now I want to concentrate on using Walking Home to support the movement. I am also excited that Hollaback is opening a chapter in Philadelphia and looking forward to supporting their efforts. We’ll see what else develops.

SSH: Great, thank you for your time and especially thank you for making such a powerful film!

If you live in Philadelphia, join Nuala and HollaBack Philly on March 20 for their International Anti-Street Harassment Day activism!

One Response to Power in storytelling: interview with filmmaker Nuala Cabral

  1. […] Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women interviewed me about the power of storytelling, using film to address street […]

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