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Hot Docs 2018 Review: “On Her Shoulders” (2018) ★★★★


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It’s incredible how much we talk about the injustice happening in this world but contribute so less in terms of solutions. I, as a film critic, can’t really do much other than write about the issues so many of us remain silent about. Nadia Murad is a Yazidi human rights activist from Iraq and since September 2016, the first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the United Nations. But before becoming the most important voice for the Yazidi community of Kojo, she was kidnapped by the ISIS, raped and turned into a slave afterwards. The 18 members of her family were killed viciously by ISIS who continues their genocide against Yazidis. “On Her Shoulders”, directed by Alexandria Bombach, tells her story openly and emotionally from which, none of you, same as me, can escape from crying.

It begins with telling Nadia’s incredibly heartbreaking story of how she had to put up with everything the ISIS did to her and her family. Ended up being a slave for men from ISIS, the young woman finds the courage to talk about what most victims, ashamed or not, would not. Constant interviews, sometimes humiliating questions from journalists that would block her from talking about real issues or her preparation to address world leaders at New York’s U.N. Assembly, it is the strength and the determination that leads the young woman to put her struggle and pain or even shame aside but talk about those who are still out there that need to be freed as soon as possible.

As the story unfolds and we learn more about Nadia Murad, we become deeply touched by the help of Murad, the man that helps to continue her quest through tears and losses she suffers every day. Some footage from her live interviews will make anyone angry who has education, or, even common sense. And that is something I believe was made a part of this film on purpose so that director Alexandria Bombach could on purpose point out why some journalists (I might be mistaken though) fail to ask one right question that could put the entire U.N. on their knees. Perhaps, it’s just me who overreacts to some of those painful interview questions Nadia Murad had to answer, but that, in the meantime, should serve as a reminder we have to do a better job analyzing the real need of having someone to talk about an issue the majority wants to know more about.

An impressive touch of Alexandria Bombach makes the viewer to leave their comfort zone and witness the reality of the twenty first century and how some humans are still worse than animals. The part of Nadia’s interview when she shares about her not being so much worried about her being raped or kept as a slave when she knew girls much younger than her were raped or done worse things to is truly emotionally evoking and unacceptable and incomprehensible to any sane mind. And that was the real beauty of Bombach’s amazingly detailed story telling ability, where her focus was not just Nadia Murad herself, but the burden she carries on her shoulder, which is rightly named as the title of her film.

In the end, how much we can learn Nadia Murad? Not to give up? Some of us give up after the smallest thing happens. But her strength and power to turn the awful experience into a platform to be used in order to solve issues the Yazidi village has experienced is what we all should look at. That no matter how terrible things can be or even beyond that, everyone can go all the way up if the will we have is as strong and visible as the scar life left on us. At some point we are all responsible for what we are carrying on our shoulders or what we choose not to.

And that’s the most outstanding and truly admiring part about Nadia Murad’s personality which justifies her place in history – she had two options but made the right choice that redefines the history for the Yazidi community, every victim of any kind and the clear message she sends – those who bring suffering won’t be able to suppress the voice of their victims. And they better be ready for a fight back as the system of justice will one day, at some point, will begin the successful process of showcasing justice being served. But for that to happen we all should remember to never stop talking about what happens outside of our own world whether we like it or not.

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