* translation: Rodrigo Guerrero and Daniela Díaz.
Yesterday, eight women accused Ciro Guerra, Colombian film director, of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The 39-year-old filmmaker is known for his Oscar nominated movie Embrace of the Serpent (2015) and Birds of Passage (2018). He has also worked with Netflix as producer of the TV series, Green Frontier. His first Hollywood film, Waiting for the Barbarians, was released in the 2019 edition of the Venice Film Festival and it is scheduled to hit VOD this August. These projects turned him into a well-known director in the international scene.
Catalina Ruiz-Navarro and Matilde de los Milagros Londoño shared the allegations in the Colombian magazine Volcánicas. In their journalistic report, they review the testimonies of the accusing women as well close witnesses, detailing the sexual harassment suffered by the seven victims, and the sexual assault of one woman. These stories show Ciro Guerra in a completely different light, contrasting with what he has been known for in the last years.
The eight cases allegedly happened between 2013 and 2019 in three Colombian cities – Medellin, Bogota, and Cartagena – and in three foreign cities: Mexico City, Berlin, and New York. The investigation presents several testimonies, result of conversations via text messages and recordings that sustain the accusations by the victims and witnesses.
The accused filmmaker showed common tactics throughout all the cases, manifesting his abuse of power, amongst which the following stand out: offering professional connections; sexual conversations; invitations to his hotel room and apartment; derogatory comments against the partners of the abused women; use of force to sexually touch and kiss the victims; and in one case, use of force to sexually abuse a woman. In the testimonies it is evident that the survivors say “No” clearly, directly, and repeatedly.
The story shows that Guerra used his influence in the film industry to impress and try to seduce his victims, resorting to the use of force to facilitate his sexual assaults. Additionally, he took advantage of work relationships to either limit or expand the victims’ opportunities based on the results of the encounters. Finally, he manipulated the situation to deny any event that may have occurred or to diminish its credibility.
The case of sexual abuse took place in Bogota, in November 2013 in the filmmaker’s home. The victim, who works in the same industry as Guerra, declared that she tried to have a good relationship with the filmmaker because “He is Ciro, I need to have a good relationship with him, he is a very powerful man”. Even then, when she arrived to Guerra’s house, she “felt that something was wrong, I felt stressed out, but I was also thinking that I am a strong woman and that nothing was going to happen”.
Guerra told her that he was going to show her a movie trailer that “only she could watch”. Then he “gave me the laptop and showed me the trailer, but before that he stood up and turned off the lights, and in the dark he sat beside me on the couch; I had the computer on my lap. He put his arm around my shoulders, and I felt really uncomfortable because he was cornering me on the couch”.
After excusing himself to the restroom repeatedly and kissing her without consent, “the guy started to lower his pants and he said to me ‘I just want to see you, let me see you’ and I told him ‘No, stop, please, I don’t want this anymore'”. He pulled my arm and he was trying to kiss me, and I was not obliging anymore. Then he took me to his room, I was in autopilot mode, in my underwear, and he said to me: ‘Only a little while, I’m not that moron Hector, nothing is going to happen'”. Afterwards, the victim declared that Guerra sexually assaulted her.
The seven sexual harassment accusations happened in different contexts, including film festivals (Colombian Film Festival in 2019 in New York and the Cartagena International Film Festival in 2016 in Colombia), casual nights out with mutual friends (going to the movies or dancing), a political event (a movie screening in the Colombian embassy in Berlin), and the pre-production of an undisclosed project.
Before publishing the piece, the journalists interviewed Ciro Guerra to give him an opportunity to narrate his own version of the events. During the interview, Guerra acted closed-minded and explicitly denied any accusation. Additionally, his stance was to defend himself based on his status as a loved director and to express how vulnerable he was to being framed and accused of harassment from his colleagues just to discredit him.
When asked if his sexual intentions in parties were distinctly rejected, the filmmaker answered “Is this interview going to be published? Every man has approached a woman at some point, and it is her decision, or rather, one understands if he is welcome or not, but the truth is that if one feels that a woman does not follow or respond, one cannot continue”.
Likewise, he claimed he has never sexually assaulted any woman, but that he has been threatened to be the recipient of this kind of accusations, yet it became “something that I let go and did not pay attention to”. Provided with the information that there was a sexual accusation against him, the director replied “Are there criminal charges? I need to be prepared to defend myself because it is a serious accusation and it is not true”.
Last night, Catalina Ruiz-Navarro gave an interview to El espectador, a Colombian news website. Ruiz-Navarro explained that both reporters learned about the accusations in February 2020.
Additionally, she described that this information came to light from conversations amongst women of the trade, since there has always been “a hall rumour about who the dangerous men are, and that is the way in which us women have instinctively protected each other”.
Ruiz-Navarro declared that before publishing the story, the accusers double-checked the testimonies, considering that “something that sexual abuse and harassment do is take our agency away from our bodies and our lives, and away from those same stories because we need to keep quiet. Thus, it was very important for the accusers to feel calm and comfortable with the testimonies”.
The journalist admitted being approached by new women interested in telling their stories. Despite her not knowing whether these narratives are connected to Ciro Guerra, or other cinema personalities, they will be heard calmly, as to repeat the well documented process of the already reported cases.
Ruiz-Navarro defended the survivors’ decision not to present their case to the authorities: “It has not been helpful to file criminal complaints with the prosecution. Obviously, it would be ideal for all women to go, present their complaint to the Prosecution and be told […] they will take action, but it is not that way”.
In fact, Ruiz-Navarro explained that the percentage of impunity in gender violence crimes in Latin America is of 98%. Moreover, women facing a criminal complaint must deal with the re-victimisation of telling their stories repeatedly in a context where “the assumption is they are lying”. Furthermore, “your name will always be associated to the event of sexual violence that you had to live through. The victims have the right to a life after the violence, they have the right to be able to not be the actress raped, abused, harassed, or assaulted by Ciro Guerra, but be themselves”.
Hours after the report’s publication, Guerra, who is currently situated in Mexico City, denied once again the accusations on video and an official statement. He declared he will have to respond through legal means in order to clean up his image:
Faced with today’s publication by Volcánicas magazine, in which there are stated serious anonymous accusations against me, I am allowing myself to express that I have not committed any of the offences I have been signalled for, and therefore I have no other option to clean up my name than to resort to legal means. I offer my apologies to everyone affected by the situation, those who have had to read these horrible, dishonest and malicious words, and I thank all the people who have given me their support and accompaniment. I ask from us all that before judging, we wait for the authorities to evaluate and shed light over the alleged incidents.
The video makes the same statement (in Spanish):
In this video, film director Ciro Guerra pledged to pursue “legal channels” following the publication of alleged sexual abuse and harassment accounts by 8 women.
Guerra was the director of the Academy Award-nominated film “Embrace of the Serpent” pic.twitter.com/t60ithnnyK
— Robert Valencia (@rvalentwit) June 25, 2020
Given Guerra’s declarations, it is important to clarify that the accusations are not anonymous; rather the names of the victims and their witnesses are protected and have been changed in order to respect their privacy and avoid reprisal. According to the case investigators, the interviews have supporting recordings – around eight hours of length – and text messages.
Subsequently, Jacques Toulemonde, writer of Birds of Passage and Embrace of the Serpent wrote a brief statement on his Facebook page: “I hesitated a lot about writing this. It hurts too much, but silence is lazy and complicit. The abuses of power, the sexual harassment and the manipulations cannot continue, not in the film industry nor anywhere else. My sympathy will always remain with the victims”.