**Content Warnings: child sexual abuse
Released six years before Ian McEwan’s Atonement novel (2003), and ten years before its subsequent film adaptation (2007), Eve’s Bayou (dir. Kasi Lemmons, 1997) could be considered a predecessor to the girl-who-cried-wolf drama.
Like Atonement, Bayou tragedizes a young girl’s sexual abuse accusations, but its theatrical cut never confirms if Louis Batiste (Samuel L. Jackson) truly molested Cisely Batiste (Meagan Good), or if said daughter lied out of anger at her father. The hazy fallout comes at the end of the film, which uses much of its time to build scandal and mystery in a swampy Louisiana setting. Lemmons has said she approached Bayou like a painting. An intricate family portrait. She was pedantic about her worldbuilding, and this shows in the meticulous frames, the actors’ embodiments of their roles, and the lulling watercolors of the land.
Bayou is seen through the eyes of a partial bystander — Eve Batiste (Jurnee Smollett). Based on Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird, she roams her town in earnest, intent on solving wrongdoings within her family — namely her father’s.
When I initially watched this film with my older sister, I was still a girl myself. I felt loyal to the Batiste sisters, and I had no doubt, until the end, that Cisely was truthful. I remember how my heart raced as Eve ran to undo the vengeful voodoo she’d set against her father, no longer confident in her assessment of his evil. The film’s disruption of my conviction unsettled me, and it’s stayed with me over the years.
At least one thing is made certain by this film: we don’t know people’s full stories — even when we try to know them. This is why transformative justice appeals to me — the premise that someone’s life doesn’t have to come to an end (or to ruin) if they’re believed to cause harm. That we have other ways of dealing with each other.
I still believe Cisely, and I don’t know if she lied. I believe her not only because I don’t have enough cause to disbelieve her, but because girls, particularly Black girls, experience terrible droughts of generosity.
In the original ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ fable by Aesop, the crying boy had several opportunities to lie before he was disbelieved. In feminized descendants of the tale such as Atonement and Eve’s Bayou, girls have only one suspected lie to tell before their reputations precede them. There is accuracy in these film portrayals; while ‘Grace’ is typified as a girl’s name, it’s so often a boy’s birthright. Justice for (Black) girls could begin with having faith in them, even if they might be imperfect.
If I watch the director’s cut of Bayou one day and learn that Cisely did lie, I won’t regret my stance. She deserves my belief by default, so I give it.