One of the most useful awareness-raising and educational tools at our disposal is the craft of film. To portray the real experiences and lives of individuals—particularly women who suffer tragedy, abuse, and revival—is something not to be taken for granted. It is just one way to open public consciousness and heighten awareness to the breadth of the issue of violence against women worldwide.
However, it is common for filmmakers to use violence against women as shock value or to be gratuitous, implying that such violence is either blithe or exemplary.Such portrayals further perpetuate the notion that sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence are a non-issue when in reality, they affect 1 in 3 women worldwide. Films that depict the violence girls and women experience in their daily lives are a great step towards building a better tomorrow simply by recognising the reality of today.
Many of the following films can be found online, which is yet another reason why video is a vital avenue for discussing worldwide and community issues like violence. Video-streaming sites like YouTube and Vimeo allow people to upload their own work or that of others, thus reaching a broader audience and bringing the conversation home. We hope that our 2014 selection of 16 documentaries show just how important film can be in advocating for the truth of these issues, enlightening audiences, and hopefully enabling others to join the fight to end violence against women.
Written and compiled by Ashley Sapp.
Casablanca Calling is a 2014 documentary that showcases the social revolution slowly occurring in Morocco where approximately 60% of women have never been to school. Despite political conflict, Moroccan women are being trained for the first time to be leaders. The film follows these women as they circulate in schools and other sites, speaking on marriage, education, and employment. In doing so, the film highlights the promise of change and indicates the importance of empowerment among girls and women.
The Oscar-winning documentary Defending Our Lives emphasises the seriousness and prevalence of domestic violence in the United States. The video features the testimonies of battered women who have been imprisoned for killing their husbands. The women in the film are members of ‘Battered Women Fighting Back,’ an organisation formed initially as a prison support group but expanded into a community-based task force. Each woman who appears in this video has experienced domestic violence firsthand via stalking, harassment, and abuse by their husbands and partners. The video focuses on how these women defended their lives and were subsequently put behind bars for it.
Note: Please go here to watch the trailer for this documentary as the video is unavailable on YouTube or Vimeo. TRIGGER WARNING: There are images that may be distressing for survivors of domestic violence.
Duma was a controversial documentary about the abuse women face in Palestinian and Arab societies. It is regarded as the first film to fully document and shed light upon the sexual abuse women face in Arab society. The documentary features women and the experiences they have endured at the hands of friends and family as well as the resulting silence imposed upon them. By giving voice to these perspectives, the film not only reveals the abuse but gives hope to survivors that they will no longer be silenced.
In the 2008 film Heaven On Earth, a young Indian Punjab woman moves to Ontario, Canada, for an arranged marriage to an Indo-Canadian man. However, her husband is an abuser who continues to isolate her after she has already left behind her community in India. The film explores a real problem for immigrants who are victims of domestic violence as they struggle not only to find resources but also ways to communicate what is occurring in their home lives.
Simply by being female, girls are more likely to be subjected to poverty, violence, disease, and other disadvantages. The 2013 film I Am A Girl follows the lives and stories of various young girls and teens as they face forced marriage, pregnancy, and threats against their lives if they seek education. These girls live in places like Cambodia, Australia, New York, and New Guinea, signaling the fact that these issues are faced worldwide.
The 2010 film Jazz Mama focuses on the sexualised violence of Congolese women and also how they remain pillars of strength, as survivors, within their community after their experiences. This film has also become a movement inspired by the strength and resilience of these very women from the Congo. It was given the Zanzibar International Film Festival award in 2010.
A film by Marcela Zamora Chamorro, Maria in Nobody’s Land takes an intimate look at the journey of three women from El Salvador as they travel to the US. The decision is not a light one, but they each decide to leave behind their abusive husbands and seek a better life outside of poverty. In doing so, they face prostitution, rape, kidnapping, and death, which is similar to many other immigrants’ stories. This 2010 film highlights the dangers many women endure.
Mrs. Goundo’s Daughter is a film featuring a woman originally from Mali now living in the United States. However, if deported back to Mali, her two-year-old daughter would be under the threat of female genital mutilation. The movie follows Mrs. Goundo as she seeks political asylum and works on convincing an immigration judge of the danger her daughter faces. This film demonstrates the struggles women often face when it comes to immigration laws and human rights.
The 2013 film No Burqas Behind Bars showcases the experiences and life of women in Afghanistan prisons. For example, in the Takhar Prison, 40 women and their 34 children were locked behind bars together within four cells. The film investigates how imprisonment is used to control women in Afghanistan, with some even facing longer punishments for fleeing their husbands than others who have commited murder.
Premiering at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, Private Violence won the Candescent Award, which was created to support socially conscious documentary films. The feature-length documentary narrates the stories of domestic violence survivors while breaking down the knee-jerk reactions of asking why victims stay with their abusers. In doing so, the film works to change the conversation and build a different future for women.
The film Silent Voices is a docudrama that discusses the issue of domestic violence in the United Kingdom. It was later released as a DVD in 2008 in order to raise funds for the charity National Centre for Domestic Violence. The film features fictitious characters ranging from the ages of 10 to 40 performing monologues based on real events and experiences.
By following three human rights defenders as they move through Iraq, Liberia, Georgia, and Abkhazia, Six Days offers insight into the everyday plight of women worldwide. Education, honour killings, and health issues are just a few examples explored in the 2013 documentary which enlightens audiences to the challenges women face but also the changes, the empowerment, and the differences they are making in order to create a better tomorrow.
Telling Amy’s Story is a film that recalls the timeline of a domestic violence homicide that occurred in 2001 through interviews with the victims’ parents, co-workers, law enforcement, and others. The actress and activist Mariska Hargitay hosts while Detective Deirdri Fishel narrates. Through this film, further awareness is raised on the issue of abuse against women.
This PBS documentary focuses on the silence that follows domestic violence, as victims feel they cannot come forward about the abuse they have experienced whether by fear of their abusers or the stigma surrounding such abuse. Often the victims believe their silence will prevent further violence from occurring. The film goes beyond economic and racial lines in order to demonstrate that domestic violence does not discriminate and can happen to anyone.
Until the Violence Stops documents the way in which The Vagina Monologues developed into the international movement V-Day, geared toward ending violence against women and girls. The film features women from around the world who each share their stories and experiences of abuse and rape as well as circumcision. In doing so, both the film and the resulting movement have aided in raising awareness of the prominence of violence within global societies and breaking the silence surrounding abuse.
Though there are multiple forms of assault and abuse, one that often goes unnoticed since it is considered the norm is street harassment. The 1998 documentary War Zone engages men in order to seek answers as to why they catcall, whistle, or otherwise make comments at women. As director Maggie Hadleigh-West explores this issue within the United States, some men apologize or converse while others yell or even attempt to hit her. Through this film, the very real experience of women is put into the spotlight to be analyzed and discussed.