Cast includes: Meron Getnet, Tizita Hagere
Writer/Director: Zeresenay Mehari (Africa Unite: A Celebration of Bob Marley’s 60th Birthday)
Genre: Drama | History (99 minutes) Amharic with subtitles
This actually happened in Ethiopia, 1996. Meaza Ashenafi is a lawyer with the Andinet Women Lawyers Association in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. Mrs. Belaynesh’s case is typical. At first, she’s so upset she can barely speak, but Meaza puts her at ease, and we eventually learn that Mrs. Belaynesha’s husband beats her. Meaza, who is fearless, confronts the husband directly… “If you beat your wife again, I’ll have you arrested.” That’s her usual MO, and it has worked well so far.
Three hours outside of Addis Ababa, the scene is very different… very rural. In a small schoolhouse, the teacher calls on Hirut Assefa. Even though she missed one question on the test, he’s still promoting her to the 5th grade. It’s a good day for Hirut. When school lets out, all of the children go off in different directions for their long walks back to their homes. On the walk, Hirut is overtaken by a half dozen men on horseback with whips and guns. Tadele is the only one we notice because he’s wearing a pink jacket. He grabs Hirut, and the band heads to a small hut, where they lock her inside as she cries and calls for her mama.
Hirut is alone in the dark long enough for her tears to dry when Tadele reappears and brutally rapes her. When he’s done, he tells her, “Don’t worry. You will soon be my wife.” Outside, the men laugh and cheer about the conquest… “she’s good looking… strong… good genes.” When Hirut sees that Tadele has left his rifle behind, it gives her the courage to run away. She never intended to use the rifle, but the men will not be scared off with warning shots. That’s when she shoots and kills Tadele.
In Addis Ababa, Meaza learns about the young girl being held for murder and decides to help. So far the story, while brutal and unjust, is not completely foreign to us. What we learn after that is difficult to process. The Ethiopian filmmakers have done an excellent job of bringing us deeper and deeper into the laws and customs of the region. Although their intent was clearly to show us the injustices that regularly happen in the area, they show all sides without moralizing beyond the obvious. The film is all the more powerful because there’s no attempt to add spin. The events were not out of the ordinary… the people involved believed they were acting according to their traditions. Although the commercial prospects for the film were not considered strong, it keeps winning audience awards at film festivals. It has an excellent cast… many first-time actors… and is beautifully made. It walks a fine line between showing us injustice and not exploiting it. “There’s never been a self-defense case awarded to a woman,” Meaza is told when she takes it on. That’s why it’s going to take courage… which is the meaning of “difret”… courage.
4 popped kernels
When a Ethiopian young girl kills her brutal rapist, a female lawyer decides to fight her death sentence, despite impossible challenges
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Art House
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Nicely Varnished Realism
Nutshell: Ethiopian girl accused of murder
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative & Thought Provoking