Film Review: GIRL RISING: Send girls to school? I’d like to give director Richard E. Robbins an education!

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GIRL RISING is a globe-trotting documentary-anthology conscience-pricker, where girls in various countries in the developing world play themselves on screen but are represented by voiceover – lots of voiceover – from the likes of Kerry Washington, Frieda Pinto, Chloë Moritz, Salma Hayek, Anne Hathaway, Selena Gomez and Meryl Streep. Tying it all together are the dulcet tones of Liam Neeson. It has a simple message, one with which you cannot argue.

Send girls to school.

In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after the earthquake, if a girl cannot afford the fee, if mother has not paid, let them go to school anyway.

In Egypt, if they are going to get juice with a friend, don’t accept rides on the back of a cart from a stranger, watch out for the sour juice but do, of course, attend class.

In Freetown, Sierra Leone, if your daughter gets a job on a local radio programme and wants to help people solve their problems on 91.3, let her do it – and, of course, study.

In Nepal, don’t sell your daughter into bonded labour (kumlari), where the goats can be nicer than the children she looks after, let her have an education.

In Ethiopia, don’t give your daughter away in marriage and make her become a ‘split girl’; let her say ‘no’ and of course bury her head in books. Also, hope she does not die in childbirth, the biggest killer of girls aged 15-19, even more than AIDS, even more than disease, according to the voiceover.

In India, if your daughter draws on her school books in her maths lesson, give her a drawing book so she can use her other books in the way they are intended. Even if it means you starve. Even if the streets aren’t safe and your daughter has to sleep in a shelter, where only the older women watch TV and she does not. Even when your home in a slum is torn down and you are forced to move by a policeman who has a moustache and brown uniform. You have her pictures. They shine as the rain stops and the sun comes out. You won’t return to the village. She will still take lessons.

In the mountainous region of Peru, where your place digging for gold is taken by your wife and daughter, and you die, hope your daughter takes refuge in words. They will make her strong. They will make her give hope. She will be a poet. She will win a competition. She will face the camera and say her lines, albeit obscured by a Hollywood A-lister.

In Afghanistan, if you are a young girl, don’t let marriage be the end. Stand up with other girls and say knowledge is your entitlement. It is the low-hanging fruit, the drive behind your steps as you climb, climb...

Cue needle-scratching abruptly off a record: director Richard E. Robbins, you’ve hit me over the head quite enough.

No sensible person open to information should object to the message. I do however object to the delivery.

Let’s consider the phrase ‘developing world’ banded around in the voiceover. Those poor countries nestled deep in the bottom of OECD’s DAC list – that’s the list of Development Assistance Countries who are aid dependent.

Now the eight countries featured in the film are not in the plumb bottom. We are not talking war-torn countries here, so-called failed states, with the possible exception of Afghanistan, though they have the Allied forces keeping the peace until 2014. (I do believe it is essential to have an exit strategy; a transition plan.)

They have a certain economic mindset which is as follows: ‘in a country where I do not have the means of production, I can produce children. Children are my resource, my pension plan.’

This ‘status quo’ tips the world towards over-population, resource exhaustion.

Are the problems depicted in the film about education? Or rather are they about access to the means of production, the right to make a safe living and earn a decent wage?

What do you think?

It’s not right that children are trafficked, but they are an economic resource – rather you than me. It isn’t about educating women and girls it is about changing the way in which we see the developing world.

Valuing it, not seeing it as a source of cheap labour!

If you think donating money to education projects in the developing world will solve the problem, think again. That’s not a strategy! That’s not a game changer!

I believe Richard E. Robbins is suckered by his own rhetoric – ‘look, ma, I made a fund raiser.’ He is earnest but misguided.

The solutions are hard but if we are serious about the problem, if we want to make our identification with the children of the world mean something then we have to do more than guarantee free education.

Even that ‘modest goal’ comes with a price tag.

Don’t get me started on caste politics, the means by which one group treats another as the servant class.

What we should be doing is demanding to pay more for the products of honest labour. And seeing those funds reach those who earned them. Then girls will have money for school. Fair trade for more than coffee and chocolate!

But we want our bargains.

We want the benefits of economies of scale.

So we encourage price wars, cuts in quality, more sugar, less nutrition.

These are points made by writers more knowledgeable than I. They are however the point.

Hollywood ‘A’ listers, I salute your desire to make a difference. But you’re fighting the wrong battle.

Think again.

About the author


Independent film critic who just wants to witter on about movies every so often. Very old (by Hollywood standards).

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