Anouk Yeh, Contributing Photographer

Hollywood producer Dede Gardner came to Yale to screen and discuss her new film “Women Talking” last Thursday. 

The film, adapted from Miriam Toews’ novel of the same name, follows a group of  women living in an isolated religious colony in the aftermath of a string of violent sexual assaults. It is a patchwork of real-time deliberation and second-person narration by a girl who observes the women in her community grapple with the attacks.

The event was organized and moderated by the interim dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and FAS Dean of Humanities Kathryn Lofton, and was jointly sponsored by the American studies, film and media studies, religious studies and women’s gender and sexuality studies departments.

“The producer discussed how much thought and effort was put in — from the voice-over to the filming of the movie — to make it centered around women and their story of independence and freedom,” Nour Tantush ’26 said after the panel.

Although Toews’ novel is based on a series of rapes in a Bolivian Mennonite community during the mid-2000’s, the film made the decision to anonymize the location of the colony as well as its specific religious denomination. 

Gardner described this decision as an “aperture-widening choice” that would “increase the [audience’s] concentric circles of awareness and proximity [to the story].”

“I didn’t want someone to be able to look at the film and say, ‘Oh, well, that’s them. And so therefore, I’m not complicit,’” Gardner said. “I’ve seen too many times where people write off violence or sexual assault or abuse inside very specifically named and identified communities as only happening there. And that’s not true.”

Lofton invited Gardner to Yale after the two of them got in touch through the actor Jeremy Strong, who visited Yale in April 2022. Lofton said she wanted to showcase “Women Talking,” which explores “questions of religion and feminism,” to the Yale community because “college campuses are where these issues are alive.”

Almost 200 students, faculty and other community members filled the Humanities Quadrangle auditorium for Thursday’s event, eager to ask the “Moonlight” producer questions about the development of this new project.

 Tantush told the News that she appreciated  “getting to see a film that focused on women and allowed those characters to share very vulnerable sides of their story and experience.”

In the film, scenes of heated debate about the damage generated by sexual assault and the theological implications of choosing to leave the colony precede those displaying the playfulness of young girls braiding each other’s hair in the midst of the proceedings. Humorous interactions and wild laughter are qualified by a grim remark from the narrator: “sometimes I think people laugh as hard as they’d like to cry.”

Also during the panel, Gardner discussed the decision that director Sarah Polley and her creative team made not to depict the actual attacks, but just their aftermath.

It “felt essential to show [the aftermath] because it is in those moments where it’s just a totally individual experience,” Gardner mentioned. She felt that by giving “personhood” to that facet of surviving an assault, the movie could “put a stake in the idea that not one single experience is like another.”

The conversation lasted for around 40 minutes. Attendees thanked Gardner and noted how the emotional power of the feature had strongly moved them before asking questions. The event concluded with remarks from Lofton, with several people staying behind in the hopes of getting a moment to speak with Gardner.

“Women Talking” is rated PG-13 and was released in theaters across the country on Dec. 23, 2022.