Part II: At The Heart of Gold Panel

Following the IFF screening of At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal, the audience had the opportunity to listen to a panel of inspiring speakers. One of the panelists who was featured in the film was survivor and activist Jessica Ann Smith. She was joined by the film’s producers, Dr. Steven Ungerleider and David Ulich. To top it off, the panel was moderated by the amazing Brown professor of sociology, Professor Hilary Friedman, who is an expert on topics in popular culture such as beauty pageants, childhood and parenting and competitive after-school activities. The audience was encouraged to ask questions to the panel, creating an interactive and engaging conclusion to a film that exposed a disturbing reality, crucial for increasing awareness and education. 

Given the upsetting content of the film, several questions were posed about the future of gymnastics, sexual assault and next steps to ensure a perpetrator’s demise, without organizations covering up abuses of power. In particular, I was stunned to hear one of the film’s producers response to a question about when we will notice change surrounding sexual assault.  He answered that it could take a whole generation before seeing a paradigm shift. Though this response was not one I’d hope for, it makes sense given the issue’s oppressive and troublesome pervasion into all realms of society. 

The audience had the pleasure of listening to survivor Jessica Ann Smith who was a victim of Larry Nassar and who offered personal accounts of how her sexaul assault has affected her life today. Notably, she recounted a personal story of when a student in her dance class approached her after class to express condolences for what Smith had been through with Nassar; a different student asked her what sexual assault even was. The variation in the awareness among these young dancers, around seven years old, proves that there is much to be done in educating kids about the existence and danger of sexual assault. Smith remained optimistic, articulating ways to help create a promising future. One of the craziest aspects emphasized in the film was how so many people–heads of organizations, head and assistant coaches, and even family members–had been told about the atrocities inflicted by Nassar, and they either covered it up, remained silent or chose not to believe the victims. When victim’s voices are silenced, the horrors of sexual assault become compounded and create a dangerous precedent in favoring the perpetaror and preventing future victims from coming forward. Thus, Smith highlighted the importance of speaking up and having conversations, whether they be between parents and children, children and children or adults speaking to other adults. 

The panel was not only an important source of education and further insight into the making of the film, the nature of sexual assault and the courageousness of survivors, but it was also a great way to decompress after the emotional and moving film. Its ability to be both heart-rending and inspirational shows how well-crafted and well-made the film was. 

Content Warning: At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal contains details of sexual abuse some may find disturbing. Sensitive viewers be advised. For further support, Brown's Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Sexual Harassment & Assault Resources & Education (SHARE) advocates, and Brown's Sexual Assault Response Line (401-863-6000) are available.