Filmmaker Needed 35 Years to Discover Secret Abuse

Jennifer Fox explores her own childhood relationship
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted May 27, 2018 2:00 PM CDT
Filmmaker Needed 35 Years to Discover Secret Abuse
Common, from left, Isabelle Nelisse, Jennifer Fox, Laura Dern, Ellen Burstyn and Jason Ritter attend HBO's "The Tale" FYC Event at the Landmark Theatre on Sunday, May 20, 2018, in Los Angeles.   (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Filmmaker Jennifer Fox didn't know she had such a personal sexual-abuse story to tell. Now with The Tale appearing on HBO, Fox's long-repressed childhood trauma has hit the small screen with a stellar cast including Laura Dern and Ellen Burstyn, Salon reports. Praised at the Sundance Film Festival, The Tale depicts a character named Jennifer Fox who learns she had been sexually abused by her coach (played by Jason Ritter) and his female accomplice—only because Fox's mom (Burstyn) finds a story called "The Tale" that Fox wrote when she was 13. Which Fox says is all too true:

  • The call: Fox was making the TV documentary series Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman about women who'd been sexually abused. "What I was hearing sounded so much like my own little private story that I called a relationship, there was this seismic crack in my body," she tells Salon. "Then soon after, my mom did find 'The Tale,' and called me, hysterical about it. ... When I read 'The Tale,' I was just shocked again because there was sexual abuse all over it, but as a child I didn't see that."

  • The teenager: "I realized I didn't know who that 13-year-old was anymore, and I had to go back and reinvestigate her. Then another discovery was how much she determined who I would become by her decision of what she believed. Then discovering these people, and discovering the predatory nature I didn’t see or the narcissism, for example. ... It took me basically 35 years to be ready to make this story, to be strong enough, mature enough."
  • The discovery: Pressured by her mother to learn the truth, Fox talked to old friends who recalled the details—a process that's shown in the film, IndieWire reports. "That took a really long time because the male coach, Bill [a fake name from the film], refused to meet me for several years, but he would talk to me on the phone. The female coach, Mrs. G, I met many times."

  • Why not a doc? People often ask if she considered making a documentary about it—that's her metier after all—but "there was no evidence of what happened to me, except in my mind," Fox writes on Deadline. "And I wanted to investigate that memory through fiction by re-creating what happened and the journey to unravel it."
  • An insider's journey: "But there is something else too," she adds. "I wanted to allow people to understand this story by entering inside the minds and thoughts of a 13-year-old girl and her adult female self. And this insider's journey is best achieved in fiction."
  • Why HBO? "I'm a realist," she tells IndieWire, "and I’ve been watching what gets theatrically released and does well, and generally they’re much lighter films than this." What's more, "some people really felt they preferred to watch this film at home ... rather than a big cinema experience because it's so emotional."
See glowing reviews of The Tale on Rotten Tomatoes, or read another real-life story of sexual abuse. (More sexual abuse stories.)

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