Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Chico Colvard's moving shocker FAMILY AFFAIR is exactly that -- and in so many surprising ways


Since viewing, via Netflix streaming, FAMILY AFFAIR, the all-about-my-dysfunctional-family documentary by Chico Colvard, TrustMovies has been thinking about the film ever since, wondering why -- among many other topics for discussion -- this 2010 movie has not received wider acclaim and much more popularity. It is a remarkably brave endeavor, for both the filmmaker and his many family members, who contributed to the documentary with their honest and straight-forward interviews about a subject that is not all that often discussed, and certainly not with the truthfulness and attempt at genuine understanding that is found here. The film is about family violence and incest, where these comes from and how they move from one generation to the next (we see four generations here).

The reason, I suspect, that Family Affair is not better known, is that it's simply too strange, surprising and complex in what it shows and tells us about a subject that is usually handled in the most broad, obvious, single-note and knee-jerk manner. The tale the film tells, while it may seems stagger-ingly "original," is probably not unlike many others out there. The difference can be found in the details, of course, but also in the deci-sion of Mr. Colvard (shown at left) and his siblings, father and other relatives to not only "spill the beans" but then to try to figure out what those beans add up to and why they turned out the way they did.

Now, Chico Colvard, it should be said straight out, is no psychologist. Nor is he any brilliant filmmaker. He is simply a man who has tried the best he can to bring to light the story of his family. His "best" turns out to be plenty good enough, for this movie will stay with you and, if you watch it with others, provide reams of discussion. When Chico was ten years old -- with thanks, he feels to the old Chuck Connors TV show Rifleman that he loved watching -- the boy took a gun belonging to his father and shot one of his sisters several times in the leg. This was not any kind of "anger release," it seems, but more an accident in which the boy misunderstood the reality of a gun (and just one more reason, though the movie does not state this, for better gun control).

The incident, which drew the police to the home, also brought to light the father's violence and sexual abuse of the three sisters (Chico himself was not abused physically nor sexually). What happened after, and why -- to the children's mother (a white German woman the black father had married while in the military service abroad), to the children, and to the father himself -- is riveting and rich in history, social and otherwise.  What has happened to the extended family, meanwhile, is every bit as odd and amazing. Or maybe not, when you stop to think about what family means and how much so many of us want it in our lives, come hell or high water.

How the people we see here have accommodated "family" -- through abuse, guilt, payback and self-hurt, among other reactions -- makes for one hell of a story, fractured as it is. Colvard himself can't make complete sense of it, understand or even empathize totally with the many different viewpoints we see and hear. Who -- save an all-seeing, all-knowing deity -- could? But he gives all this to us, raw and undigested, and simply asks that we try to understand. The great amazement and strength of this 80-minute movie is that somehow we do.

Family Affair -- a don't-miss documentary -- is available now via Netflix streaming. Miss it, and you will miss one of the more unusual family stories of our times.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I watched this on netflix with my husband last night. I was horrified. Its so sad that people do this to children. I mean he was a tipple threat. He beat them nentally and physically in addition to sexual assault. He was supposed to create a family to protect not to destroy.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for commenting, Anonymous. And, yes, this is a shocking movie. But even more shocking than what was done to the children is their eventual response to it. This is a film that, the deeper you explore, the stranger it gets. Nothing, it seems, is unforgiveable or can't be worked around....

Anonymous said...

Absolutely appalling and unbelievable that people believe it iis forgiveness that has allowed the abused daughters to spend time with the father. It is lack of healing, understanding the dynamics of abuse that is going on here. This is a poisonous and toxic relationship. I am so desperately saddened to see this and see more children exposed to this dysfunction.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for the comment, Anon. But I am not sure that any of us -- outside of the actual family members shown -- can say with certainty that some sort of forgiveness is not part of this very strange picture. But it also must be forgiveness mixed with so much else! Poisonous and toxic is also part of the deal, as you say, as is America's still rampant racism that corrupts all it touches.

Connie Carty said...

I watched this last night and was completely surprised Chico didn't share ( or show ) more about his visit w his mother and her explanation about leaving. She seems to me the one with the healthiest approach to this whole awful situation. Those tragic girls are still tangled up w a sick man and the mother recognized they didn't want to be saved, so she saved herself

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for commenting, Connie. What you say makes me want to take a look at this film again. (It's been ten months since I viewed it.) When incest or abuse begins at a fairly young age, the victim -- on some level, at least -- is often captured psychologically forever. Which is one reason the daughters may not have wanted to cut ties.

debiro1 said...

After seeing this, my own father doesn't seem so bad anymore.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for posting, Debiro1. And I am sorry that you, too, had to put up with a bad dad. But, as they say, everything is relative, right?

Anonymous said...

Please ask Mr. Colvard to frequently update. I am an abuse survivor and this story was so close to my own. Difference being, I haven't been able to get past it. This film was very enlightening.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for your comment above, Anonymous, but I am not at all certain that Chico Colvard, the filmmaker, has even seen or read my blog.

Chico, if you have read or are reading, you might want to let some of your fans out there know how they might reach you for updates and/or questions.

Ann Lopez said...

I am a student in a college where it's located in Irving, Tx. I remember seeing the film in my own room at first. It's very sad on what the Colvard siblings went through! I'm an emotional type of person whether I experienced stuff like that or not.
In my English 1301, I saw it again. I have to do an argument presentation on Family Affair. It's hard to be on either side of an argument but thankfully, my instructor said that no one cannot be serious about it because the film IS a touchy subject! The argument choices are: 1)should the father be forgiven or not, 2) what was Chico's intent of his film,...I forgot the other 3 choices. This film is an educational thing to watch!

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for posting, Ann, and good luck with your paper.

Your instructor is right, I think, in that it is difficult not to see things from several asides, once you've viewed this film -- even if, finally, you pretty much have to come down against what the father did. Part of the movie's great strength is that is makes you see and think about things like family, crime, love, and forgiveness a little differently and perhaps more strongly than you did prior to watching FAMILY AFFAIR.

Anonymous said...

I saw the film an was left with so many unanswered questions! When Chico finally got the nerve to ask his father why he did such terrible things, he never said what horrible things he meant the father went off on blaming others who had hurt his people . He said how he had made wrong decisions in war time but never addressed any of the things he had done to his own children. I was left waiting for him to admit what he had done! He never did. This man acted like he did nothing wrong to his family or he did not understand the question! How very sad for his daughters. He raped their souls!

James van Maanen said...

The father is, to some extent anyway, a different man now from who he was when these events occurred. But you are so right, Anonymous, when you say that he must admit to what he did. From the looks of things, however, this guy never will.

Anonymous said...

I believe in forgiveness but to continue to be around a man who abused me physically and sexually, and to feel comfortable enough to have my young children around this man is what baffles me. I guess as a mother I will never understand putting my children in dangers way and I'm speaking in terms of the sisters and their kids.

James van Maanen said...

Hi, Anon (I'm not sure if any of the above anonymous tags belong to the same person)--

Your comment is unsettling because I suspect some viewers will not have delved deep enough into the whole situation to realize that this seems to be what is happening here. Though we have no definitive evidence on this question, unless we know that the sisters are not putting their own children in harm's way -- are they monitoring their dad and his behavior when with his grandkids? -- this leaves us with a rather skeevy feeling about the whole mess.

Whew, this movie keeps uncovering layer after layer of possibilities....

Lex54 said...

I watched this documentary for the second time on Netflix tonight. I was left just as baffled and frankly, angry that these sisters have not sought healing for themselves!! Their mother abandoned them and wrote a nasty letter essentially blaming them for staying. They were kids with no recourse! She deserves just as much punishment as that mentally dysfunctional and evil specimen that raped his daughters and sees himself as having done a good job in attempting to rear them. Lord help us all for any woman who would even look twice at this demon! To see that another woman with no self esteem attached herself to him. Obviously she was poor and in need of food and shelter!! I just can't wrap my head around why this monster was allowed back into the lives of his daughters. They need major help!!!

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for commenting, Lex54. It may be that the sisters feel that they are, in some way, actually healing the situation by their decision and behavior. It is difficult to know, but I can't blame you for feeling baffled.

This really is a movie that cries out for more follow-up and some updating. Maybe we'll get it eventually. Are you out there and listening, I hope, Mr. Colvard?

Anonymous said...

I do not see anything healthy about icing out ones own children who have suffered years of Tramatic abuse.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Anon, for posting (regarding Connie Carty's earlier post). I understand what you are saying, and I tend -- from what we see in the film, at least -- to agree with you. It does seem as though the kids' mom too easily abandoned them to their abusive dad. I do wonder what their mother would say about all of this now. Every documentary has a number of viewpoints to be taken into consideration, although we don't always learn enough about these to be able to understand and/or judge properly.

Tanya Johnson said...

This dysfunctional behavior is not uncommon. I feel like the brother who made this documentary although I am female. My father as an officer in the military, there are 6 girls in the family. We lived in different parts of Europe. We are also African American, and the horror of what had happened to my 3 older sisters did not get revealed until many years later while we lived here in the United States.

I am the midde child and was closest to my father, but he never harmed me in any way, as a matter of fact he taught me how to protect myself, and how to behave? I did not find out about his raping my older sisters until I was 33 years of age I am 46 years of age now. I unfortunately married a predator because I married a man that I believed to be like the "loving" man that was shown to me at home, but I did in fact marry someone who was like my father a Sociopath.

However, my second oldest sister revealed from a mental institution that she had been raped by him and that it happened when she was nine years old, it was than that I understood why I had married the abusive man that I did, and I got way I have been away for 15 years now, and I also removed myself from my parents and others sibling who still support him to this day, maybe its Stockholm syndrome, but I'm free of them and live a beautiful life with a loving man. I stay away from predatory people and because of what I learned I am a Forensic Psychology Major.

Tanya Johnson said...

By the way my wonderful husband is Dutch I see that you too are Dutch.

James van Maanen said...

Wow, Tanya: Thanks for your comments, and what a history you have! I am glad you got away from your family -- and married a Dutchman! (I am sure that there are also predatory Dutch males, but fortunately neither your hubby nor I are among them.) Good luck to you, and I hope that Chico Colvard, the director of FAMILY AFFAIR will be able to read and appreciate your comments, too.
Best wishes!