Saturday, April 20, 2024

On Screen: Getting the Word Out

March 20, 2010  
Filed under Coffee Table

By Annie Suh —

On Wednesday, March 17, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit televised one of their best episodes to date, “Witness.” Why? Well, before I get into that here’s what it was about: Detectives are trying to identify the only witness of a rape case. The predicament is that the only eyewitness disappears since she is in the country illegally and greatly fears being found and deported back to her own homeland in Congo—a country ravaged by rape and violence where she, too, was victimized.

In a culture that revolves around entertainment, we love coming home from work, plopping down on the couch and unwinding with Glee, Modern Family, The Office, Fox News or our favorite channel. It entertains us at no cost, and there’s no work on our part with no need to speak or think—just listen, watch and wait for an emotional response to form.

The younger generations are marked with a bad reputation of having short attention spans and being selfish, spoiled and ill-informed about the world. It’s not good to assume, but one truth is that we don’t respond well to preachy-teachy things. This is why many more shows and films should do what Law & Order did—raise awareness about real issues through powerful story lines.

Dr. Neal Baer, the executive producer of the show was on NPR the day after “Witness” aired and said the information about Congo was factual and the message intentional. Viewers watch and are wrapped up in the drama and storyline, the human element stirs their emotions, and then if they’re interested in learning more, they’ll take action because they want to—and if not, then at least they’ll be exposed to the issue. The episode didn’t go on and on about rape and murder inflicted by conflict minerals in eastern Congo, but Nardali’s character was highly compelling and knocked on my curiosity.

The SVU episode was made in collaboration with the advocacy group, Enough, which is on a fight to end crimes against humanity in conflict areas like Congo and Sudan. Sylvie Maunga, a lawyer connected with Enough and on the frontlines of eastern Congo reports that armed groups use rape to force civilians out of mining areas so they can exploit the illegal and lucrative trade in minerals—gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten, which are materials that make our cell phones and electronic devices function.

When the armed men attack these women and children, it is often done in public right in front of husbands, kids and neighbors to bring shame. Sylvie Maunga also reports, “after the rape, the perpetrator sometimes fires his gun into the woman’s vagina.”

This kind of gruesome horror has zero chance of being tolerated in the U.S., but what the Congolese women and community go through are regular activities. Not many care in the world, because not many know.

But the entertainment industry can create awareness. Law & Order: SVU is an example, as well as Blood Diamond and Hotel Rwanda. With so many humanitarian issues to tackle, it’s not a question of what to make known but how. It’s time for more screen writers, producers and organizations to work together and get the word out.

Take action by learning more at:

Raise Hope for Congo—a campaign to “raise awareness, raise your voice and raise the profile.”

And for more information on the various kinds of issues plaguing the world, visit


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