‘India’s Daughter’ director Leslee Udwin welcomes Streep, Penn support

In the Zone: 'India's Daughter' director Leslee Udwin welcomes Streep, Penn support


“India’s Daughter” director Leslee Udwin has been heralded for her documentary on rape culture in India. Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn are supporters of the film, which address the epidemic of rape in India, and internationally.

FOX411: When you were here in March, you faced intense criticism for your depiction of the gang rape of 24-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh which resulted in her death. You called that criticism a "witchunt." Has anything changed since then?

Leslee Udwin: I am still being hunted but I believe by a minority of backward looking people who are resisting change, and I understand that there will always be that contingent. I try to fly at 30,000 feet above it. I get threats on tweets. I get called white bitch, told that I deserve to be raped. I get pornography sent to me. It’s okay. I’m going to change the world and put every ounce of my muscles into that, and of course until that happens I have to put up with these, you know, sad, pathetic people who don’t want to see change.

FOX411: And you’re working on changing that mentality. With your voice, you are building an army of support especially in Hollywood. Meryl Streep has just come out, this month alone; she is going to campaign for you to win an Oscar for Best Documentary. What does that support mean to you especially from her?

Udwin: It means the world to me from people like Meryl who herself is a tireless campaigner for human rights. She is working so hard to get the equal rights amendment act ratified and, you know, I am completely dumbfounded. Why in God’s name is this act not ratified. From that point of view, the Indian constitution is much more advanced than the U.S. one because at least in India they have article 14 of the constitution which grants equality to women under the law. In the U.S. there is no equality under the law. Why on Earth? What kind of respect is that? But just to get back to the positive, Meryl has a heart as big as a planet. She’s an extraordinary woman and I admire her, and she’s a role model to me so of course her support means the world to me as does the support of Sean Penn, who launched a screening for us in L.A. last week and said he didn’t realize films were important until he watched “India’s Daughter” last week. And President Joyce Banda of Malawi who is a most extraordinary, committed politician and marvelous human being and is a patron on my Human Rights Campaign that I’m committing the rest of my life to is flying in from Washington to New York tomorrow night (Thursday) to support this film; because the film has such impact. The film is transforming people.

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FOX411: Yes, and I want to talk about how we’re going to transform because when you think of rape as a culture, how do we address this?  Because as you said, this is not just a problem in India this is an international epidemic so how do we stop rape?

Udwin: It’s actually very simple. It’s going to take some time but it’s all about education. When I was interviewing these seven rapists over 31 hours, there were a number of shocks and reversals of expectation for me and every single one of those was accompanied by a blinding, searing insight. First of all, they felt no remorse, not one second over 31 hours. The reason for that is that don’t genuinely believe they’ve done anything wrong. In fact, they’re indignant because everybody else is doing it, why are they singled out for punishment? The other extraordinary insight, this is probably the most important one, is that it’s a question of value. I interviewed a rapist who had rape a five year-old girl.

FOX411: Absolutely, completely, utterly tragic.

Udwin: Tragic, and these rapes continue. Only last weekend, a 2 ½-year-old and five-year-old girl in Delhi were lured away by two juveniles who offered them toffees and gang raped them. The weekend before that, on the Day of the Girl, a four-year-old girl who lying in Safdarjung Hospital, the very same hospital that Joyti Singh, the subject of my film was lying in, and having the same operation to fit a colonoscopy bag, a three hour operation on a four-year-old girl because she had been gang raped by three men, and when I asked the rapist I interviewed who had raped the five-year-old, how on Earth he could cross the line from wanting to do this to doing it to such a little, innocent creature? Here’s what he said to me word for word. First, he looked at me as though I was insane for even asking such a stupid question and then he said “She was a beggar girl. Her life was of no value.” Value. It all comes down to value. In Rwanda, when the Hutus wanted a genocide and they wanted the Hutu people to kill the Tootsies, what did they do? They started a propaganda campaign calling Tootsies cockroaches so that the Tootsies could simply stamp on them because they’re of no value.

FOX411: So, they make people subhuman so that way they think they’re not committing a monstrous, heinous act.

Udwin: Absolutely.

FOX411: But like you said, the way you think of a rapist is a deranged, mentally disturbed person, but in these cultures, like you said, it comes down to a mentality, and a woman is not just a potential victim of being raped but it can be a child as young as three or five. So, what is next for you when it comes to changing what is going on in the world today?

Udwin: I have examined as a result of this journey of inquiry of mind, what it is that is lacking in the hardwiring of men who do this to women, and the big insight for me was this. Of the seven rapists I interviewed, six of them had not completed secondary education, so at one point, I thought rather smugly and complacently, I have to say now, I thought ahhh lack of education, that’s one of the big problems.

FOX411: That’s immediately where my head went.

Udwin: But then I interviewed the lawyers.

FOX411: Oh, I have a great quote from one of the lawyers.

Udwin: Please.

FOX411: If I might share this. 

Udwin: Please, please do.

FOX411: This was one of the lawyer’s for one of the rapists of Joyti. He said that he would light his sister or daughter on fire if he found out she had premarital sex.

Udwin: Correct, and three months after he made that comment I interviewed him and asked him about that comment he said, “I stand by that remark. I believe in it.” So, what I’ve discovered is it’s nothing to do with access to education. It is everything to do with contents of education, and examining this actually with my 15-year-old daughter, who has been key in the foundational thinking of this human rights education initiative that I’m now spearheading and advising the UN Human Rights Commission on. What we discovered is we are educating our children’s heads. We’re not educating their hearts. We are teaching them to read, write, and count. Nowhere are we teaching them the value of another human being, equality, diversity, respect…

FOX411: Empathy.

Udwin: Empathy absolutely. Thank you for that. That’s the crucial word.

Fox Reporter and FOX411 host Diana Falzone covers celebrity news and interviews some of today's top celebrities and newsmakers.  You can follow her on Twitter @dianafalzone.