Should teens be part of PBS doc about sexual abuse?
"Kind Hearted Woman" (Monday and Tuesday, 8 p.m., PBS/Ch. 7) is a beautifully made documentary that goes where filmmaker David Sutherland has gone before.
Into the heart of poor America.
And like Sutherland's two previous PBS projects - "The Farmer's Wife" and "Country Boys" - "Kind Heart Woman" is a beautiful film that reaches out and grabs you by the heart.
The two-part, four-hour documentary focuses on Robin Charboneau, a Oglala Sioux woman who lives on the Spirit Lake Nation reservation in North Dakota. (Her Indian name translates at "Kind-hearted woman," giving name to the project.) Sutherland follows her through three years of her life as she struggles to improve her life and the lives of her two children - and struggles to overcome the trauma of being sexually abused as a child.
It's tough going at times. Heart-breaking. Emotional. Frustrating. Compelling. Important.
It will make you uncomfortable. It will enrage you as Charboneau has to fight her ex-husband - who was convicted of sexually abusing their daughter - for custody of the children.
Charboneau was reluctant at first to get involved with Sutherland's project.
"David was the third person I had ever told about what I endured as a child, and I have no idea what made me decide to do the film," she said.
But she had a dream that prompted her to agree.
"I woke up and I was cold and I was shivering and I was crying and I knew then that - you know what? I have to start speaking out," Charboneau said. "And here's somebody that's willing to listen."
What makes this even more uncomfortable is that her daughter is also involved. And, while Chaboneau is an adult and can make her own decisions, the question of involving a minor - two minors, including her son - in something this public is never really addressed.
"Well, I've always taught my kids that if they have something to say, say it," Charboneau said. "If they have something that they think they need to share, then it needs to be shared and that their voices are powerful. And they've gained that."
This is not to suggest that her daughter has any reason to be ashamed. She did nothing wrong.
But this is a huge decision to take this public. And in the same way children should not be fodder for reality shows, should they be a part of a project like this - no matter how well done or how well intentioned?
"I'm so proud of the both of them and so proud of the things they've done," Charboneau said. "And wherever the road takes them, I've given them everything I have to offer and I've guided them as far as I can."
You can certainly argue that a program like this that shines light on child sexual abuse is a good thing. Potentially, a great thing if it can help prevent it from happening.
Charboneau and her children should be proud.
But is appearing in this documentary the kind of decision a parent should be making for her children? Is this the kind of decision teenager should be making?
I don't have a answer for that. But it remains a troubling question.
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