A Better Man
On a hot summer night 22 years ago, 18-year-old Attiya Khan ran through the streets, frightened for her life. She was fleeing her ex-boyfriend, Steve, the young man who’d been abusing her daily for two years. Escape didn’t come easily. The steady violence had left Attiya both physically and emotionally drained. When she finally bolted and ran, Steve pursued her. But she was quick on her feet and managed to get away, a traumatized but determined teenager beginning to realize that she deserved more out of life. Now, all these years later, Attiya has asked Steve to meet with her in a coffee shop. Attiya has long moved on with her life, but she continues to bear the emotional scars of their time together. She wants to know how Steve remembers their relationship and how he justifies what he did to her. She wants to know what scars, if any, he bears as well. Most importantly, she wants to know if Steve is willing to take responsibility for his actions.This emotionally raw first meeting, filmed by Attiya with Steve’s consent, is the starting point for A Better Man. The rough footage also marks a new beginning in Attiya’s own recovery process—as well as an important starting point for Steve. For the first time ever, he speaks of the abuse and cracks opens the door to dealing with the past.Told through Attiya’s personal narrative, A Better Man goes on to follow a series of intimate conversations that take place between the former couple and therapist Tod Augusta-Scott, who specializes in working with men who have used violence. With Tod’s help, Steve is able to return to the past he thought he had left behind and allows himself to remember specific incidents of abuse. As Steve and Attiya revisit their old apartments, school and hang-out spots, two very different sets of memories emerge. With surprising courage and empathy, Steve and Attiya lay bare their vulnerability to help each other come to terms with the violence that took place so many years ago. Attiya’s narrative and healing process may be central to the film, but this is Steve’s story as much as it is hers.From the outset, Attiya knew that making this film would be extremely painful. But it was an exercise that went far beyond advancing her own healing journey. As a domestic-violence counselor, Attiya has witnessed firsthand the persistence of violence against women, despite the tireless efforts by advocates to bring about change. Through this experience, questions began to formulate in Attiya’s mind: Why is it so difficult for men like Steve to get the help they need to change? What can be done to support them in a rehabilitative context? What if greater emphasis were placed on prevention instead of punishment?Illuminating a new paradigm for domestic violence prevention, A Better Man offers a fresh and nuanced look at the healing and revelation that can happen for everyone involved when men take responsibility for their abuse.By showing that men who use violence can be both willing and valuable participants in the healing process, A Better Man infuses new energy and possibility into the movement to end violence against women. It empowers audience members to play new roles in challenging domestic violence, whether it’s in their own relationships or as part of a broader movement for social change.
Director Attiya Khan, Lawrence Jackman