As usual, the cause is urgent and wide-reaching, and the production and story-telling is compelling. But as much as I do appreciate their body of work, I’m also left wondering about a few things. These are not particularly astute observations, and I’m sure I’m not adding anything new to the conversation, but a few things frustrate me about this genre of activism and I’m not sure why.
- Celebrity endorsements: are we really so shallow and apathetic that we won’t pay attention unless a face from Hollywood tells us something is tragic? Yes, I realize they have wealth, influence, and a marketable draw, but for every sympathetic expression and scripted pearl of wisdom, it seems like those resources could have been used to further highlight indigenous leaders, or better yet, enable their work directly. The Hollywood effect may have its place, but I wish documentarians would give audiences a bit more credit: the stories in all of their local context can stand on their own without a Western savior in the limelight.
- Issue skimming: I understand that the nuances of policy and the complexities of development may not make for good film-making, but I suspect that for most people watching these kinds of documentaries, the stories and statistics are not necessarily new. What is needed beyond the initial emotional response is a thoughtful, rigorous discussion of effective strategies on the ground. Yes, women are devalued and exploited in innumerable contexts, and this is a systemic, root cause of innumerable problems. So let’s get deeper. Let’s make intercultural collaboration and policy debate sexy- certainly someone can at least give that a shot.
- “Otherizing” the problem: North Americans may believe that the wanton abuse of women and girls is primarily an issue “over there”– in places like Sierra Leone, Cambodia, and Vietnam. But this foundational issue of patriarchy and gender-based violence is much closer to home. The U.S. is still a highly genderized society, and though much progress has been made, we will not solve the global problems of sex slavery or human trafficking until we can connect them to issues like the media’s objectification of the female body, our own complicity in constructing essentialist understandings of “masculinity” and “femininity,” and even the Church’s history of excluding women from leadership. Only when we are able to see the continuum between our own structural gender biases and the subsequent outworking of those biases in other cultures will we be able to address the problems with integrity and a healthy dose of self-reflection.
I’m not trying to hate on Half the Sky– I’m sure it’s a far better book, film, and movement than I could write, produce, and run. But I want to go deeper, and I want to be held accountable for saying these issues are important to me.