“Girl Rising” isn’t a movie or even a documentary, at least not in the traditional sense. It’s a lengthy, highly effective PSA designed to kickstart a commitment to getting proper education for all young women, all over the globe.
Presented by 10x10, an organization dedicated to female education and working in concert with similarly focused NGOs, “Girl Rising” unfolds as a series of nine vignettes, each singling out a young woman in a different pocket of the developing world and telling her story with the assistance of a notable writer from her homeland. (One of the writers who participated in this project is Marie Arana, the Peruvian-born former editor and current writer-at-large for The Washington Post.)
Each piece functions as a reenacted mix of the truth and a slightly re-imagined version of the truth, something the movie makes clear and that the narration provided by numerous prominent actresses — including Meryl Streep, Salma Hayek, Cate Blanchett and others — further emphasizes. This is nonfiction filmmaking, with a slight dash of Hollywood.
So, for example, Blanchett and writer Edwidge Danticat usher us into the world of Wadley, a Port au Prince girl struggling in the wake of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, still stubbornly showing up for school every day even though her mother can’t afford the mandatory tuition. And author Manjushree Thapa and Anne Hathaway introduce us to Suma, a Nepali woman who learned how to read and write, saving her from a life of forced labor.
Each episode emphasizes the crucial role education plays in providing greater opportunity and increased confidence to young women living in places where female intellectual development is an afterthought at best. It’s difficult not to agree that all of these girls and their overlooked peers deserve far better than the circumstances life has dealt them, especially when Liam Neeson — another of the Hollywood narrators — keeps sharing so many alarming (though unsourced) statistics about the disproportionate number of girls worldwide who are not in primary school, becoming victims of human trafficking or dying in childbirth.
But “Girl Rising” doesn’t really address the roadblocks to making significant change in the countries it visits. The movie encourages its audience to get involved, to visit www.girlrising.com and contribute to organizations working to address the issues. But it’s unclear whether that will bring about the sweeping transformation that the film powerfully argues must take place.
The limited screenings are supposed to be just the beginning. The filmmakers and producers of “Girl Rising” are actively encouraging communities to host their own screenings. The idea: Start a movement that gives girls a chance to be just as smart and productive as their male counterparts, wherever they may be. That’s noble and right and, as noted at the beginning of this review, not necessarily what a traditional movie is really supposed to do. But as so many of the stories in “Girl Rising” imply, maybe it’s time to reconsider a lot of things that have become tradition.
Chaney is a freelance writer.
PG-13. At Regal Majestic in Silver Spring and Regal Countryside in Sterling. Contains disturbing thematic material and images. 101 minutes.