NEW YORK — For those far removed from the reality, it is easy to become numb to shocking statistics of child poverty. But a new film, backed by some serious Hollywood clout, helps to illuminate the painful reality of life for millions of girls in the developing world.
In "Girl Rising," nine girls from nine countries battle against all odds to be given the chance to receive an education.
Those challenges in the way of that goal are truly heartbreaking: human trafficking, child marriage, slavery, extreme poverty and violent rape.
At a screening at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City Monday night, a small audience watched five of the nine short stories. They included that of Haitian girl Wadley, who makes a determined effort to attend school after the country’s devastating earthquake, even though her family cannot pay the tuition fees.
Part documentary and part narrative (each story was written by an author from the same region as the girl), "Girl Rising" is also an inspirational tale of young girls' strength and determination to break cycles of child marriage and slavery.
Oscar-winning actresses Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep, among others, help to voice the girls' remarkable stories.
The nine dramatic segments are interrupted by Liam Neeson’s unmistakable raspy baritone. Neeson recites statistics on the plight of children in the third world while young girls stand in a green field holding up placards to further hammer home the numbers.
The figures, while indeed alarming, feel an unnecessary intrusion, and weaken an otherwise powerful film with their heavy-handed preaching.
Despite this, "Girl Rising" deserves accolades for its bold and brave approach. Through the eyes of individuals, it successfully manages to illuminate the painful realities of life for millions of girls from the impoverished nations of Cambodia, Haiti, Nepal, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Peru, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan.
In Cairo, a rape victim’s account to the police is so unspeakable that it is told with animation, through the eyes of the girl’s imaginary superhero alter-ego. Also poignant is the tale of a Nepalese girl, voiced by Anne Hathaway, who at age six begins a life of bonded servitude, enduring years of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of various masters until being rescued by a teacher.
Executive producer Tom Yellin said Monday he felt a “personal responsibility” to share these powerful stories with the world.
“We knew it would be hard to tell but we saw it as a tool ... to start a dialogue about access to education in these countries,” Yellin said in New York.
“The goal of this film is not just for people to learn something, but to do something.”
The film's other message is to demonstrate how educating one girl at a time can ultimately bring about huge change, Yellin said.
“These girls are the future. If these girls and millions like them get the education they need, incredible things will happen."
"Girl Rising" is currently receiving a limited release in New York and Los Angeles, but it is also being shown in cities nationwide via Gathr, a new demand-based distribution platform.
For more information, visit www.girlrising.com.