"Enough" Is Not Enough
In a bloody, glass-shattering fight scene that marks the climax of "Enough" -- the latest Hollywood woman-in-jeopardy flick that opened in theaters on Friday -- Jennifer Lopez kills her husband.
"Enough" is the story of Slim (Lopez), a young domestic violence survivor, who finally strikes back at her violent and abusive husband, Mitch. As one of only a handful of Hollywood films to tackle domestic violence head-on, "Enough" -- which has all the trappings of a major blockbuster -- could have helped increase awareness of a long-neglected social problem. But instead it mostly serves to fuel popular misconceptions, presenting overly simplistic ideas about domestic violence. The most damning aspect of the movie is its dangerous message that violence is the only choice open to battered women. Worse yet, it is completely inaccurate about the consequences of making that choice.
After she delivers the lethal punch that launches Mitch into a glass dining table, Slim calls the police, looking remorseful and shocked as she waits for authorities to arrive. But rather than deal with the consequences of her actions, the film cuts quickly to the final scene where Slim, looking lovely and calm, is reunited with her young daughter at a bustling airport, presumably to live happily ever after, Hollywood-style.
The film's tag-line is "Self defense is not murder." But in the name of self-defense, the movie shows Slim deliberately planning the murder of her husband. The result is a misleading and potentially damaging message of what really happens to battered women who kill their abusers. The heroine is able to evade all criminal and emotional consequences for her actions, unlike the estimated 1,000 women who are serving long prison sentences for killing their batterers.
"The movie both helps and hurts our message [which is] that survivors often act in self-defense," says Olivia Wang, an attorney with the California Coalition of Battered Women in Prison. "It [helps because it] promotes the message that domestic violence can be deadly, and that many survivors only have two choices: kill or be killed."
What hurts is the message that killing your batterer has no downside. "The audience walks away thinking Slim is a free woman, which is totally unrealistic. She would almost definitely be convicted of first-degree murder," Wang says. She also worries that some people will use the movie as a reason to get tough on survivors who defend themselves. "I think this movie will play upon the fears that allowing women to claim self-defense is like giving them a license to kill, which simply is not the case," she says.
In the film, the audience begins to understand the terror of domestic violence as Mitch stalks Slim, who flees from city to city with her young daughter. Slim first tries to protect herself by learning martial arts, but soon she begins to act in ways that go beyond mere self-defense. A few days before a child custody hearing, Slim silently and skillfully breaks into her husband's swanky loft. In preparation for a violent encounter, she hides his knives and guns, short-circuits the lighting and changes into steel-toed boots. When Mitch returns home, Slim challenges him to a fight and then uses a mere month of martial arts training to beat her unsuspecting abuser into a bloody pulp.
After watching Mitch beat and stalk Slim throughout the film, Slim's bloody retaliation offers the audience a visceral sense of satisfaction: The bad guy finally gets his due. But the scene also equates empowerment with violence. "It's important to empower women through physical movement if it helps them to be safe," says Dr. Diana Rios, a professor of Communication Sciences at the University of Connecticut. "But what Slim is doing is buying into violence as a solution."
Vera Anderson, whose book "A Woman Like You" chronicles the stories of imprisoned survivors (and which Lopez reportedly read for research on her role as Slim), agrees. "The idea of taking control of your life, that's a great message to send out," she says. "But the way this film ends, with Slim lying in wait [to kill her husband] does a disservice to all the women who are sitting in prison for killing their husbands, those who were in danger and who were, in that moment, desperate."
Henrietta Briones was convicted of second-degree murder for shooting her boyfriend to death in Southern California in January 1986 -- even though she could make a better case for self-defense than Slim.
Briones' boyfriend, Larry Daniels, beat her up at least four times a week. She left Daniels after a year and a half, but could not get rid of him. When he found out that she had a new boyfriend, he attacked her again in a jealous rage, breaking a glass bottle over her head. A few days later, Daniels forced his way into Briones' apartment, pulled out a pistol, threatening to come back later and kill her. As he left, she picked up a rifle that Daniels had left behind and followed him into the courtyard. When he began walking toward her with the pistol in his hand, she shot him in the chest.
Briones, who had no previous criminal history, was booked for murder and later sentenced to life in prison. Today, more than 16 years later, she is still at the Correctional Institution for Women in Southern California, hoping for parole. There is no Hollywood ending to Briones' story.
"[The film is] a great opportunity to start talking about these issues, but I hope that people will acknowledge that thousands of women are sitting in prison for doing what Slim did in the movie," says Wang. "And some of these women will probably be in prison for the rest of their lives."
Bernice Yeung is a San Francisco-based journalist.>