When I got the email about the event screening “Half the Sky,” I was interested, but not overly excited. I consider myself more familiar with global gender problems than the average person, which probably can also be said for most students here—at least we are aware that the problems are out there. But on a campus where gender parity is vocally demanded, and respect for women and women empowerment are norms that permeate every social and intellectual situation, a common problem arises in which I too found myself trapped. I had become jaded about gender issues.
So what is one to do, then, if they are to create successfully a film on a topic that is generally exhausted among intellectual arenas? They have to strip away the fluff—the abstract terms and issues that everybody is familiar with, in this case women’s right to vote, to equal opportunity, to education, etc.—and reveal the core problems as they truly are—natural and unadulterated.
I use the term unadulterated because this is the problem that many people run into when they undertake a project like “Half the Sky.” They involve themselves in the issue to the point where the focus is no longer the issue itself, but on those attempting to solve the larger problem. This ultimately nuances the issue, and turns a well-intentioned project into a self-perpetuating display. Can somebody please tell me what Bono did in Africa again?
Half the Sky accomplished this difficult task, and they did it with grace and poise. Even with the celebrity component of their project, an area of which I was most skeptical, they kept the audience’s attention on the core issues facing women globally.
If I had to choose the most impressive aspect of the film, I would point to their approach to conveying the issues. Not once did you see a Westerner explaining to you, while traveling by plane to his “problem destination,” what the problem is and his intended plan of action to combat it. Instead, each segment of the film begins with a brief explanation of the problem to give it some context. The rest you learn straight from the mouths of people directly affected by the issue. And the main people working to solve the issues are not the makers of the film, but women who themselves have been victims at one point or another.
As a fly on the wall, viewers are able to experience the frustration of attempting to bring a man accused of rape to justice in Sierra Leon, and finding him on the streets days later. They share in the pain of his victim who feels ashamed for reporting the incident to the police in the first place. They are encapsulated by story after story of the horrors of the brothels in Cambodia. They are uplifted by the efforts of women who have risen up from these trenches to work tirelessly so that other girls do not have to go through what they did. All the while, Nicholas Kristof and his celebrity companion are the ears. Each time they let the story tell itself. This is what captivates an audience that at one point considered itself “informed” about the oppression of women worldwide.
“Half the Sky” is not about flying in “superman-style” to save the suffering people of the world. It is about giving people the podium they deserve to get their stories out in a dignified manner. In an extremely effective display of “show not tell,” it educates the general public about the various problems women face globally. Most importantly, it is conducted in a way that fosters a feeling of connection between the viewers and the people whose lives are directly affected by these issues. Only through a strong connection of this type will apathetic individuals realize that supporting the group that encompasses “half the sky” is not a subject about which to be jaded.