Did anyone catch "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" on PBS this week? It's a documentary based on the book of the same name by the husband-wife journalist team Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. They were the first couple to win the Pulitzer Prize, which was for their coverage of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest movement. Kristof and WuDunn's film addresses different types of gender-specific oppression in Africa and Asia from the perspective of not only Western journalists, but of Hollywood actresses.
Yes, the word, "oppression" conjures up mainly negative connotations reminiscent of the Women's Liberation Movement; the overtly angry woman with a huge chip on her shoulders. But please do read on because the film encompasses so much more than that. "Half the Sky" portrays humanity in the least human of places: the slums of India--where children sleep under their prostitute mother's beds while their mother is working, the desolate landscape of Somaliland--where nurses are fighting to get mothers the prenatal and neonatal care they and their babies need, etc.
Rather than go into a synopsis of the entire film, I would like to share my observations about it:
1. The first half is mind-harrowing and sad, as it discusses and interviews very young girls forced into prostitution; 2. Parts of the film are very PSA and pro-public policy in structure; 3. By including an America actress (Gabrielle Union-above video, Diane Lane, Meg Ryan, America Ferrera, Olivia Wilde, and Eva Mendes) in each segment (countries covered include Vietnam, Somaliland, Cambodia, and India), the film puts a very multiracial, female American face on the issue of global female oppression; 4. Discusses the role that Western nations play in maintaining this oppression (i.e.: Cambodia sex tours of underage girls sold in the US); 5. Importantly emphasizes the cultural relativism present when Western nations denounce culture-specific practices, such as female genital mutilation/cutting; 6. Emphasis on how education is the key to empowerment, but I did not like the you-have-to-learn-English-to-succeed mentality expressed; 7. It is mainly women who implement district-wide programs to help impoverished women and girls; 8. "The Colonizing West is the Best" tone is still evident in the film, albeit in subtle way, for many of the program implementers were formerly employees of either the US or England, as well as educated in the West; 9. Allowing women to be in charge of their own money bolsters the local economy (thanks for the reminder, GoHeyJudy) and country--not to mention, women and girls are treated better.
All in all, "Half the Sky" was a well edited, critically engaging documentary. A sucker for documentaries, I was both critical and contemplative about the subject matter and portrayal of the women and girls in the film. This film especially left me thinking of how the Interdependence Movement is genuinely a very real movement, since the stories are not just personal narratives: they are a deep dark hole where the unknown is dug up one-by-one, piece-by-piece, starkly revealing not just the treatment of women in each country, but the collective treatment of women all over the world, which is, as the film puts it bluntly, the social issue of our generation. The video that opens this post is my favorite segment of the film, Gabrielle Union's trip to Vietnam.