Stacey Kabat ‘85 visited Bates on Sunday night to discuss her documentary titled Defending Our Lives, which reveals the prevalence and severity of domestic violence in this country.
The event was co-sponsored by the Department of Rhetoric, the Women and Gender Studies Program, and the Harward Center for Community Partnerships. As part of the the lecture in the Filene Room, Kabat shared not only her film but also her personal story, her perspective, and her message.
For many juniors about to go abroad, their semester will be a culturally exhilarating experience, but perhaps not as dramatic as Kabat’s junior year working for Amnesty International in London. This was one of the many experiences that have made her a leading activist for battered and abused women in the United States and abroad.
As Kabat’s childhood is veiled in memories of domestic violence and abuse, her documentary was a personal opportunity for her to give voices to those who have been made to believe that they deserve to be abused and voiceless. Making and marketing the film was an uphill battle, for no organization wanted to fund a movie that focused on such a taboo topic. The fight was worth it: in 1994, Defending Our Lives won an Academy Award for best documentary short.
After her co-producers’ Academy Award acceptance speech, Kabat audaciously slid in front of the microphone at the last second and declared to the one billion people watching, “Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States. Please, we need all your help to stop this.”
It was a short addition to two already two concise speeches; however, her action defied the Academy’s rule for documentary film producers that prevented more than two people from accepting Oscars at the podium. Just as the colleagues exited the stage, the camera panned to Laurence Fishburne rolling his eyes at her activism.
When you have the attention of one billion people, you’re going to say what’s most important to you that they hear. You’re going to “pick your passion,” as Kabat puts it. Her fleeting moment became the most talked about moment of the Academy Awards, and Mr. Fishburne joined a list of biggest disappointments of the ‘94 awards season.
This was not an unprecedented event at the Academy Awards. In 1972, Marlon Brando sent Native American civil rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather to accept his Best Supporting Actor award in protest of the Academy Award’s treatment of Native Americans. The crowd booed at Littlefeather’s presence, but it acknowledged what we all think when we watch award shows; the theater that the awards are held in is probably one of the wealthiest and most influential rooms in the world.
Today, Defending Our Lives remains an important film; although we can tell that the clothing of the interviewees is outdated, and low-budget sound equalizing is not what it is today, the stories continue to make an impact on audience, leaving them angry and embarrassed.
In addition to viewing her film, Kabat shared her personal story as a child growing up in a house with domestic violence. She emphasized that her experience is one example of how this is not a war going on in another country, nor is it an issue plaguing members of foreign religious sects or cultures.
“My dad was a white business executive and Dartmouth graduate,” she nearly screeched, “and I desperately did not want to be like him.”
She began activism work in her final year at Bates when she and a friend worked together to encourage the Board of Trustees to divest stock holdings in companies invested in then apartheid-organized South Africa. She was successful, and she still thanks Bates as one of her first stepping stones toward becoming the confident activist that she is today.
Asst. Professor of Rhetoric Jonathan Cavallero said, “At Bates, we ask our students to imagine themselves not just as students but as citizens who can work to make a better world. We ask them to see their work not just as a job, but as something purposeful that can contribute to the greater good. Stacey Kabat is the embodiment of those ideals.”
“To my knowledge,” he continued, “Stacey is Bates’ only Academy Award winner, and she’s also a dedicated activist who founded Peace at Home and spoke at the 4th UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.”
Like all excellent social rights advocates, Kabat is angry at our country’s unjust way of treating victims of domestic violence. She firmly believes that our democracy is a blessing, but “it doesn’t work unless you get involved and make a difference,” she says. “So go ahead, pick your passion.”