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By Pooja Rambaran
In April 2016, while in her second year of journalism at Ryerson, Serena Lalani, then 19, wrote a blog post detailing her escape from an abusive relationship.
After years of muscle aches and bruises, jealousy, possessiveness and hateful words spat out at her, Lalani recounted the night she finally decided to leave.
“I kept waiting for signs from God to tell me that I should walk away from the relationship,” Lalani wrote. “The truth is, God gave me hundreds of warnings, but I kept considering my options until I was so badly hurt that I had no choice but to die. ‘get outside help.’
Since that message, she has received hundreds of messages from other survivors who have resonated with her story and who have been, and may still be, victims of violence.
“Sharing and talking about domestic violence, for me, was a way to really open up those non-judgmental conversations so that others felt a lot less alone,” Lalani said. “I know when I was going through it, I would have liked to hear other people who [I wasn’t] alone in these experiences.
In 2021, on the fifth anniversary of the end of her relationship, Lalani decided to continue the conversation by beginning the process of filming and producing a documentary about her experience, an idea she had been sitting on for decades. years.
His next documentary, This is my proof, reflects on Lalani’s healing journey and building a new life after trauma and distances herself from her faith community.
As she has shared her story repeatedly through national television interviews, podcasts, panels and articles, Lalani said this documentary is an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the consequences of taking talk about his experience.
“Since I first shared my blog posts, I knew that raising awareness about domestic violence and intimate partner violence was an important part of the impact I wanted to have on the world,” he said. she declared.
“It got to a point where I knew I wanted to do more than a few interviews here and there. I wanted to broaden that impact, broaden that conversation, and introduce new media into the mix, and that’s how the documentary has started to thrive,” Lalani added.
The film currently focuses on Lalani’s passage from Toronto to Montreal, far from the city where she suffered much of her trauma.
Along with co-producer and director Jenny Jay, she launched a crowdfunding campaign in June 2021 to help fund the production of the documentary. From their dream goal of $20,000, they have so far raised over $16,000.
The following July, they were both invited to be part of “She Is Your Neighbor”, a campaign created by the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo, to continue to raise awareness of the complexities of domestic violence and shed light on its impact. on South Asian women. communities. The duo have been featured as guests on their podcast and have been featured on bus commercials all over town.
“It was a very complete moment for me, from writing the blog post five years ago to now about the bus ads,” Lalani said. “There was a time when I was so scared and petrified to use my voice and now to see something in this kind of public space was a huge moment for documentary.”
As a Muslim woman within the South Asian community, reflecting and navigating through the judgment she received from members of the community is an important aspect of her story that Lalani wants to show in the film.
“The night I left my relationship my life was on the line and it’s something I don’t take lightly because it changed me forever,” Lalani said on the “She Is Your” podcast. Neighbor”. “But explaining this to my community, I don’t think it affected a lot of people because I heard [comments like] ‘she exaggerates’ or ‘we all go through that’ or ‘how bad was that really?’ »
“ …I knew that raising awareness about domestic violence and intimate partner violence was an important part of the impact I wanted to have on the world“
In South Asian communities, where collectivism, maintaining a strong family unit and preventing negative public perception are valued, community members are often discouraged from reporting cases of domestic violence. For victims of domestic violence, speaking their truth, as Lalani did, can mean being abandoned or isolated from their families.
Lalani added that within the South Asian community, there is a lot of pride and belief that “it’s the way it is and that’s just what you do” in relationships. Refusing to remain silent about her experience was a rare case that she attributes to the generational divide.
“It’s hard to bridge that gap and explain, even within my own family – to my elders [and] my parents – why I did what I did,” Lalani said in the podcast.
Lalani plans to submit the completed documentary to film festivals around the world to reach a wider audience. She hopes to use it as an educational resource on domestic violence and provide an understanding of what it is like to experience domestic violence as a marginalized person.
“[Since] I posted my blog post from 2016, there was a huge [number] South Asian women who messaged me because they felt pressure and stigma in our community [regarding domestic violence],” she said. “It was always something that stuck with me that I really wanted to address and try to change.”
The documentary does not yet have a set release date and filming is underway, according to Lalani. “I’ve learned that putting an end date right off the bat feels a bit arbitrary and isn’t going to be the best way to make this movie, because the whole movie is really about healing and creating those safe spaces.”
In addition to working on the documentary, Lalani is freelance and works primarily with Black, Indigenous and racialized entrepreneurs to help them make their voices heard online through their websites and social media presence, offering assistance with website copying, blog posts and photography.
“I really try to direct with impact in all areas that I work on, whether it’s documentary or with my independent clients.”