Girl Rising is a beautiful film. Part documentary, part narrative film, it sends the powerful message that the education of girls is an instrumental source of change. The film tells the stories of nine girls, from nine different countries: Sierra Leone, Haiti, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Peru, Egypt, Nepal, India and Cambodia. Each story is written by a renowned author from the girls’ country, and each story is narrated by well-known actors: Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, and Kerry Washington to name but a few.
This overlapping of voices from across the world works well to evoke the scale of the problem: over 66 million girls are denied an education. The girls’ stories are interspersed with such statistics that are difficult to comprehend. 80% of human trafficking victims are girls, the voiceover tells us for example, and the number one cause of death in girls aged 15 to 19 is childbirth.
Education, Girl Rising argues, is the answer to these problems. It is through education that girls can avoid myriad difficulties they would face otherwise: early marriage, gender-based violence, domestic slavery, and sex trafficking. The film mentions further benefits for the wider world. At one point it states that girls are ‘the highest return investment in the developing world’. Though this is persuasive, and serves to illustrate in tangible terms how valuable girls really are, the film does not dwell on this aspect. Considering girls as economic investments is unappealing, especially when girls can and do suffer incredible hardship and abuse.
The film is right to choose a different, more powerful, approach. It refuses to be dominated by bleak facts and statistics and instead shows the value of each girl by displaying her personality, her sorrow, her joy, her intelligence, her humour and her passion.
We hear Yasmine, a girl from Egypt, declare her strength and fearlessness in the face of sufferance. She comes across as a superhero with remarkable resilience.
We see Wadley, a young Haitian girl, fight for her place in school after an earthquake leaves her family devastated and unable to pay tuition fees. She loves school, and disobeys her mother and teacher by repeatedly attending classes. Her smile when she realises she has managed to convince her teacher to let her stay is infectious.
We hear Suma speak about herself as a child slave from the age of six, working from 4am until midnight. She made up eloquently beautiful songs to carry herself through such hardship. Suma was lucky: A lodger at one master’s house helped her to attend a night school where she started to learn to read and write. It was a teacher at this night school who argued with her master for freedom. Suma now works to free other girls in the same position she was in. “I am my own master now, I have no mistress” she says; “I feel as though I have power”.
The girls’ families can appear equally as powerful. In some stories, it is the parents who inspired the girls to study and work hard to achieve their dreams. In Ruksana’s case, for example, her family have nowhere to live, and yet they work hard to make her attend school. Ruksana’s supportive family is not typical, however. Amina’s story is the last, and arguably the most devastating. Born in Afghanistan, she worked from the age of three, whilst her brother was educated. She was then sold into marriage at the age of eleven and the money was spent on a car for her brother.
The beauty of Girl Rising lies in its careful depiction of the girls as agents: they may have suffered slavery, child marriage, rape, and more, but they remain powerful. One striking moment sees Amina take her anger and frustration to reclaim her identity and lead other girls to follow suit. Richard E Robbins, the director of Girl Rising, said that ‘the film is about giving a voice to these girls.’ Those voices must be heard: they call for education and for the chance to improve their future. As one girl states, “I will read. I will study. I will learn. If you try to stop me, I will just try harder.”
Girl Rising is a challenging, yet uplifting film that leaves a lasting impression. Outstanding.
Jenny Lanigan, Blog Writer
Bassam Salman, Blog Editor