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Featuring the voices of: Cate Blanchett, Priyanka Chopra, Selena Gomez, Anne Hathaway, Selma Hayek, Alicia Keys, Chloe Grace Moretz, Freida Pinto, Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington and Liam Neeson.
Writers: Marie Arana (Peru), Doreen Baingana (Uganda), Edwige Dantical (Haiti), Mona Eltahawy (Egypt), Aminatta Forna (Sierra Leone), Zarghuna Kargar (Afghanistan), Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia), Sooni Taraporevala (India), Manjushree Thapa (Nepal) and Loung Ung (Cambodia).
Director: Richard Robbins.

Rating: 5/5

Advocacy documentaries tread a troublesome path for many. The causes and calls to action they represent are always worthy and very few doubt the dedicated passion needed to bring ‘the message’ to the masses. But they can also slip into preachy tirades; their cinematic form is consumed by the filmmaker’s intent, and audience belief in the cause is muted by a heavy-handed film experience.

Director Richard Robbins, whose keen eye for factual film narrative earned him DGA and Oscar nominations for 2007’s Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, tackles the shameful practice of gender-based abuse and intolerance in his artful, achingly moving work, Girl Rising. Specifically, this highly literate yet effortlessly engaging film examines social practices across vast cultures that deny education and freedom of speech to young women.

The film recounts the true stories of nine girls, whose journeys differ in detail but who have all experienced oppression and denial of formal learning. In a bold move that expanded the scope and greatness of the project, Robbins sourced female writers from each of the territories and asked them to represent the girl’s story in words rich in their understanding of the native culture.

Underlining Robbins’ ambitious vision was the securing of A-list stars from six different countries (among them Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Prianka Chopra and Chloe Grace Moretz) to narrate each episode. The richness and compassionate readings quickly negate any concern that their involvement is ‘stunt casting’; the emotion is plainly evident in several of the recitals. Additionally, Liam Neeson provides bridging dialogue for scenes that present startling facts (beautifully handled by young women bearing large cards and choreographed lovingly) about the impact upon communities when girls are denied the right to learn and contribute.

Girl Rising is not an exercise in ‘man-bashing’, as some may fear. Where the role of men culturally dictate the subjugation of girls, it is presented as fact, but more often the film identifies the great benefits strong men can play in helping their society break free from out-dated, often brutal traditions.

There is an understated evenness and precise clarity employed Robbins and the production’s ‘guest directors’ Ramaa Mosely (Afghanistan), Chris Wilcha (Nepal) and Jenny Lee and Gareth Smith (Sierra Leone). Their film celebrates the strength, intellect and spiritual beauty of women, convincing its audience with the gentlest but firmest of hands how significant a resource for positive change exists yet is too often denied our world.

‘Advocacy Cinema’ has found a new, strong standard-bearer in Girl Rising; one hopes it drives the forceful change needed in our global community as powerfully as it represents a creative shift in the genre. 

For further information on the Girl Rising movement, visit the official website.

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