Words for Warriors

Wind River is a painful movie worth seeing. It is a fictional crime thriller, about the rape and subsequent death of Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), the search for her predator, and the efficient justice enacted upon him by tracker, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), who teamed up with FBI agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson) to solve the crime.  [Spoiler alert]

AT the end of the movie, Jane is in the hospital with Cory sitting near her bed, a suggestion of future romance in the air. As they reflect on the events leading up to this moment, they have this conversation.

JANE: You saved my life.
CORY: You’re a tough girl, Jane. You saved your own life.

JANE Let’s be honest, I just got lucky.
CORY: Luck don’t live out here. Luck lives in the city. Whether someone
runs the stoplight, whether your bank’s the one that gets robbed, whether someone’s dialing their cellphone when they come to a crosswalk … Luck is winning or
losing. Out here, you survive or you surrender. That’s determined by your strength. Your spirit. Wolves don’t kill unlucky deer, they kill weak ones.

You fought for your life. And now you get to leave with it.

It was a noteworthy moment because rarely does a male hero ever give the credit for surviving completely back to the woman whose life he participated in saving.

However, that memorable dialogue was not as surprising as the 22 words that happened earlier in the film, just before Cory enacted some vigilante justice on Natalie’s rapist, whom he has trapped on a lone mountain peak. In that scene, Cory reminds the coward, not of what he did to Natalie, but of what she did afterward: 

You know how far it is from that driIl camp to where Natalie was found — almost six miles. Barefoot. That’s a warrior.

To hear a rape survivor, inside or outside of a reservation, described as a warrior, is not something I am accustomed to hearing.

Rape survivors are usually described, either explicitly or implicitly, with words that suggest fault, words that shame, words that connote that the woman is now unclean, damaged, inappropriately dramatic or prone to hysteria, or at best, a weak victim in need of a protector.

Taylor Sheridan, who wrote, directed, and produced Wind River, has joined forces with many writers whose work has cast light on the magnitude of violence committed against Native American women and the overall lack of concern for the scars they carry or the moral obligation to offer them legal protection and justice.

Equally noteworthy is his acknowledgment that women who survive rape are neither weak, unclean, or deserving. They are women whose strength of spirit, whether or not they were able to stop their rapist, is deserving of the title, Warrior.

For the millions of women worldwide who continue to live with the psychological, physical, and spiritual scars of rape, to be described as Warriors is a profound step towards telling the truth about rape: it is an act of violence, committed by weak men who devalue women. The strength of the women on whom they prey begins with surviving the assault. It continues every day as they fight against the despair that comes from both the memory and the subsequent trauma in the way they are perceived and categorized by those who have no understanding of their strength.

If the function of dramatic storytelling in film is its ability to heal and transform its audience, my hope is that Sheridan’s film might bring a wider lens to the way rape survivors continue to be perceived and the words that are used to describe them, and that a more apt name for them might become the norm.

Warrior seems like a good place to start.