Friday, February 10, 2017

Leigh Gilmore's "Tainted Witness"

Leigh Gilmore, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at Wellesley College, is the author of The Limits of Autobiography: Trauma and Testimony (2001), Autobiographics: A Feminist Theory of Women's Self-Representation (1994), and coeditor of Autobiography and Postmodernism (1994).

Here Gilmore dreamcasts a film based on her latest book, Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives:
Most of the cases I write about involve actual women, a couple of whom, including Anita Hill and Cheryl Strayed, have been played by talented actors in film versions of their lives. But if I may tweak the premise of “my book, my movie” a bit to fit a scholarly work, I write about two figures that are rife with dramatic potential: the tainted witness and the adequate witness. These are not actual people, but they represent roles people can play -- either by force, when one becomes a tainted witness, or by choice, when one acts as an adequate witness. In my fantasy film of Tainted Witness, I would want to see Viola Davis play both roles because she can do anything, as far as I’m concerned, including make us feel the human cost enacted by processes of judgment and doubt. The tainted witness is the woman whose words are turned against her, whose reputation is smeared, and whose important contributions are cast aside by those with a competing agenda. Viola Davis would convey the complexity of the circumstances out of which testimony emerges. She would speak from the wound and make an audience see the injustice women often face when they bear witness. The adequate witness is the one who can receive testimony without deforming it. She does not substitute her own terms in the place of the witness’s or insist that the testimony only counts if it comes from a pure or sympathetic victim. The adequate witness is steady, just, and non-harming. I can see Viola Davis powerfully embodying the ethical situation of bearing witness, a situation that is full of potential and consequence, but is also often a scene of betrayal.
Learn more about Tainted Witness at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue