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'Half the Sky' Brings Gender-Based Horrors to Documentary Film

'Half the Sky' Brings Gender-Based Horrors to Documentary Film


Oct 4 2012
What the new film shows us that the acclaimed book can't.

Watch Women Are Not the Problem, They Are the Solution on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

When my church began reading World Vision president Rich Stearns's book The Hole in Our Gospel—a book about our gospel call to seek justice worldwide—I thought something was wrong with me. While other church members spoke of needing to "pause for cry breaks" or feeling "wrecked" after reading a chapter, I felt none of that. Yes, I was angered and saddened in parts, but my life just didn't seem as affected as others' seemed to be.

I confessed this to a woman at my church, wondering aloud what sort of stone-hearted monster I was for not being "wrecked." She shook her head.

"Of course you're not as affected, Caryn," she said. "You've read Half the Sky. You've already been wrecked."

She had a point. While I had long understood the travesty and tragedies brought about by brutal patriarchies throughout the world, reading the heartbreaking specifics of fistulas and enslaved girls in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide rocked my world. The book didn't just make me want to cry—it ignited something closer to rampage. The book ultimately offers hope by contending that educating women will free them. But the horrors offset that hope enough that once I finished the book, I sat with an intense anger from which I wasn't sure I would recover.

When I first heard that PBS's Independent Lens film channel was developing a documentary based on the book, I was leery. Not only did I wonder whether filmmakers could capture the spirit of the book for TV, I also wondered what watching some of the horrors described in the book would do to me.

But this special presentation, which debuted this week, proves that sometimes the movie is actually better than the book. There are scenes of a girl being cast out of her family for accusing her cousin, a pastor, of raping her. There's the woman who refuses to stop her female genital mutilation (FGM) trade because it's so lucrative. Then there's the scene where onlookers watch a video of a girl undergoing FGM. These and other scenes boiled my blood and brought tears to my eyes, a kind of clutching to my heart. But these women and girls also became real—became in-the-flesh bearers of the image of God. And they stirred not so much rage but rather a brokenhearted, sisterly longing to make things right on behalf of God's female creations.

In its beautifully shot and eloquently executed coverage of the book, the four-hour, two-night broadcast series does what the book couldn't do: lets us see the faces, hear the voices, nearly smell the scents and feel the texture of the hurt and of the hope that exists for women around the globe.

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'Half the Sky' Brings Gender-Based Horrors to Documentary Film