What is the true story behind Women Talking? Inspiration and book behind Oscar-nominated film with Claire Foy

Directed by Sarah Polley Women Talking features a star studded cast with performances from Claire Foy, Rooney Mara and Frances McDormand

The Oscar nominated film Women Talking, which is based on the book by Miriam Toews, follows a group of eight women in a Mennonite community who have 48 hours to decide their future.

Written and directed by Sarah Polley and featuring a starr studded cast including Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Frances McDormand and Ben Whishaw, the film has already been nominated for two Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Both the novel and movie are based loosely on real life events that occurred in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. So, what is the true story behind Women Talking? Here’s everything you need to know.

*Warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault

What is the true story behind Women Talking?

Women Talking is based on the novel of the same name by Miriam Toews, however, the harrowing story it depicts is based on a true story. In 2011, a trial uncovered that in the Manitoba Mennonite community in Bolivia between 2005 and 2009 more than 130 women and girls had been anaesthetised with a sedative spray meant for farm animals and sexually assaulted.

Women Talking has been nominated for two Academy Awards (Photo: © 2022 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved)Women Talking has been nominated for two Academy Awards (Photo: © 2022 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved)
Women Talking has been nominated for two Academy Awards (Photo: © 2022 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved)

Reported by the Guardian in 2018, when the women spoke up, they were told that maybe they had been attacked by the devil or that their stories were just “wild female imagination”. After they started sharing their stories with one another the women found the courage to speak out, leading to seven men in their community being sentenced to 25 years in prison for their crimes.

What book is the movie Women Talking based on?

The film is based on the book by Miriam Toews, which was released in 2018. Toews, who grew up in the conservative Mennonite community of Steinbach in Canada, felt compelled to write the novel after learning about the trial. Her novel is a fictionalised version of the real life event, focusing on eight women who have gathered together after the men who committed the crimes have been arrested. They are left with the decision to vote for their future, with the two options being stay and fight or leave and do nothing.

Speaking in an interview with the New York Times in 2019 Toews who left the community when she was 18-years-old said: “I felt I had an obligation to write down hope for change for Mennonite girls and women. I hope the Mennonite patriarchy and the misogyny inherent in the fundamentalism that conservative Mennonites preach, that one day will change.”

Are the characters based on real people?

In an interview with the Guardian, Toews explained that the characters in her book are not based on real people. She said: “My goal is always to tell a story and to create characters that will move the reader. But I’m, of course, a feminist. I have a need to challenge that status quo that I’ve experienced.”

She also revealed that the character of August who joins the women’s meeting as a secretary to keep the minutes was “inspired by her own father”. Toews explained: “August is inspired by my own father, especially his gentleness. My dad was a teacher, too. [To others], there was always something suspect about him. He was considered effeminate or demasculinised. Men’s options are so limited, too.”

  • The National Domestic Abuse Helpline can offer information and support for anyone affected by the content of this article. You can call their helpline on 0808 2000 247.
Related topics: