Film & Television

Brave Girl Rising and Period. End of Sentence:
Short Stories that are Changing Women’s History

Since 1987, when Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9, March has been designated Women’s History Month. According to the Smithsonian Institute, one of several major organizations that have joined in commemorating studying, observing, and celebrating the vital role of women in American history, “The stories we tell deepen our understanding of women’s contributions to America and the world, showing how far women have advanced and how we as a country value equality and the contributions of all our citizens.”

This month, social media is filled with stories about women who left an indelible mark on our nation’s progress but have often been left out of the history books. Like Alice Coachman, the first black woman to win an Olympic Gold medal in 1948. Or Margaret Hamilton, who developed the software that enabled the Apollo 11 mission to land safely on the moon in 1969. In recent years, more and more of these stories have surfaced — in some cases inspiring powerful movies like Hidden Figures —  and it’s a trend we should encourage.

At the same time, there are women all over the world who are changing history for themselves, their peers, and future generations in sometimes small and quiet ways. Two of these less glamorous but equally inspiring stories have been made into compelling short films.

This month, the non-profit Girl Rising, which focuses on girls’ education and empowerment, debuted the new short Brave Girl Rising. It was filmed in one of the world’s largest refugee camps and produced in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee. Brave Girl Rising tells the story of Nasro, a courageous young woman who is determined to get an education and build a better future despite miserable odds. Nasro lives in Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya.

Worldwide, more than 68 million people have been forcibly displaced since 2017 because of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations. Another 44,500 join those ranks each day, and more than half are children under 18. These children are five times more likely to be out of school than non-refugees.

Girls are at particular risk. In primary schools, there are 20% more refugee boys than girls; and in secondary schools, there are 30% more boys. More disturbing, less than 9% of refugee girls in low income countries attend school at all. There is a clear correlation between education and a girl’s future — it’s estimated that if all girls finished secondary school, child marriage would drop by 64%.

Nasro’s story is poignant. She has lived at the camp since she was seven years old when her family fled Somalia, walking nineteen days to get there. Her mother, who died in childbirth, visits her at night when Nasro sleeps. “We wrap our arms around our body, connected again like when I entered this world. She holds my hand in her hand, draws a flower on my palm. In this dream hooyo [mother] says, ‘What will you do with your one life, Nasro?’ The dream mother looks into Nasro’s eyes and speaks. ‘You must pledge allegiance to yourself.'”

Brave Girl Rising‘s beautiful script is written by Warsan Shire, a Somali refugee herself. In 2013, she was named London’s first Young Poet Laureate, and her work is probably best known as the dramatic foundation for Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.” Shire, who has only visited Somalia once since her family settled in London, has been called “the spokeswoman of the African diaspora” and the “voice of refugees.” Prolific, but deeply private, she agreed to work on Brave Girl Rising because she wanted to raise awareness about girls in refugee camps. It was Shire who suggested Dadaab and after reviewing interviews with more than a hundred girls, selected Nasro as the protagonist. The two used Skype to collaborate on the script. Shire was often humbled by their conversations. “No one has done this before,” she said. “Few have seen this place… and fewer still have cared.”

Brave Girl Rising is narrated by actress Tessa Thompson, who has appeared in commercial blockbusters like Thor: Ragnarok, Westworld, and Creed. A Time’s Up activist as well, Thompson related to the project on a deeply personal level. “When I read Warsan Shire’s gorgeous script,” she remembers. “I was blown away by the beauty and strength of her prose. The women’s movement is about all of us. We have a responsibility to stand up for the rights of women everywhere — and that includes the 17 million girls around the world who have been forcibly displaced from their homes.”

Golden Globe-nominee David Oyelowo reads the introduction to the film. “Being a father to a beautiful daughter myself, I look for ways I can be effective rather than just angry about the injustices I see. That is what I find to be so valuable about Brave Girl Rising; the film tells a powerful story and the [Girl Rising] campaign shows us how we can be part of the solution.”

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