Written by: Bianca Garner, CC2K Staff Writer
In these difficult times, many women are fighting to have their voices heard and to seek justice for the crimes that have been committed against them. Nadia Murad is one of these brave women, speaking on behalf of her entire community and bravely taking on ISIS. She’s an inspiration to so many and finally has her chance to take her struggle to the big screen. On Her Shoulders is a very moving, and tear inducing documentary, by director Alexandria Bombach. It follows this strong-willed young woman, who survived the 2014 genocide of the Yazidis in Northern Iraq and escaped the hands of ISIS to become a beacon of hope. On Her Shoulders, is Nadia’s chance to discuss her feelings of doubt, anger and frustrations over becoming the voice of the Yazidi people whilst trying to convince the U.N. to officially recognise what took place in Iraq was a genocide. A considerable amount of people would have perhaps given up, but Nadia never quits as she travels across several countries, putting her own life in danger to fight for change. Bombach is there every step of the way to capture the journey, and what an astonishing journey it is.
Murad tragic tale began in 2014, when the Yazidi were targeted by ISIS, who tried to wipe them out. Approximately 700 people were slaughtered in Murad’s small village of Kocho, leaving only 15 men alive; the women were enslaved, and many of them were brutally abused and raped. These people now remain broken, forced to live in refugee camps scattered around Iraq, Greece, and elsewhere. In one heart-breaking scene, a man explains how the West is now carrying out another ‘genocide’ of sorts by separating families, sending them to different countries. Many would like to return home, but home only exists in the form of bricks and rubble.
Murad’s determination to tell what happened has led to her appointment as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador. She’s not quite alone with her fight, and is joined by her protector Murad Ismael, director of the NGO Yazda. Another ally comes in the form of Amal Clooney, a woman who makes use of her beauty and celebrity connections to ensure the human rights cases she champions remain in the spotlight. Amal seems comfortable to pose in front of the cameras outside the court-house, but Murad shys away. This isn’t about fame or notoriety for Murad, but justice. As she explains, ”I never consider this a job…it’s a request for help.”
There is never a moment of rest or relaxation for Murad, who informs Bombach that before ISIS attacked, she wanted to open a hair salon. In a few brief scenes Murad goes shopping, but it is clear that the weight of what took place haunts her. And what happened to Murad is horrific, there is no other way to put it. Her mother and six brothers were killed by ISIS, and that doesn’t include extended family also slaughtered or enslaved as she was. Murad doesn’t want to get justice for herself, but the other girls (some who were only 8 years old) who were raped and tortured. One has to wonder how she manages to keep calm, when faced with some of the obnoxious questions that journalists ask such as “Tell me what that was like, to be treated like property?”, ‘How did they rape you?” and ”What is it like to now be famous?” What happened to Murad isn’t just another head-line; she has to live with her story, and recount it, day in, day out. Her empathy, compassion and determination, are all virtues that should be admired by all.
Bombach uses observational footage in hotels and safe houses, refugee camps and assembly halls, showing the viewer what is taking place behind the scenes, which makes for fascinating viewing and creates an intimate portrait of this very public figure. Although, it is in the interviews thar take place in black-background studio, where Murad gets to freely express herself. Murad speaks directly to the camera, revealing how she wishers that people knew her as an ”excellent seamstress, an excellent athlete, an excellent student, an excellent makeup artist, an excellent farmer.” and that they didn’t know her ”as a victim of Daesh terrorism.” And, what Bombach has achieved with On Her Shoulders, is to allow Murad to tell her side of the story, in her own words and go beyond her portrayal in the media as just being ”another nameless victim”. The end result, is a moving film which offers hope to so many across the globe. On Her Shoulders, isn’t an easy film to watch, but it is a necessary one that needs to be seen and one can only hope that Murad’s voice is heard loud and clear.