In high school, many of us watched documentaries like “Supersize Me” and “Food Inc.” But how often were we educated on the global issues that currently haunt us? Yes, there are issues in the food industry (how our foods are processed and our dieting habits as a society), but there are also issues around the world that many people aren’t aware of.
Documentaries can influence a change in behaviour among some viewers through the messages they convey. Dinatalia Farina, who will soon graduate with a degree in environmental studies and a minor in gender and women’s studies from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, said that some documentaries have humbled her to the point where she wants to take action. After watching “Cowspiracy,” she came to the conclusion that cattle and the environment are often exploited, which inspired her to become a vegetarian.
“My knowledge is what allowed me to change my actions,” Farina said. “You can claim feminism but not be a feminist; somewhere your knowledge has to eventually match your actions.”
For myself, I’ve had the opportunity to sit in a college classroom with a curriculum designed to make students step into someone else’s life, recognize their pain and feel for them. Below is a list of documentaries and movies based on real-life stories that bring awareness to the topics of ethnic cleansing, prostitution, women’s roles in society and child soldiers. Most of the events covered in these films happened within the past 40 years. It is important to note that the films don’t depict an entire nation or society.
In 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority sought out to cleanse Rwanda of the Tutsi ethnic group. This movie is based on the efforts of a Hutu hotel manager, who uses his position to shelter his Tutsi wife and other refugees. The storyline focuses on his struggle to protect these people when the U.N. pulls out of Rwanda in the middle of a civil war. The film highlights the ethnocentrism that minorities face in Africa and highlights the U.N.’s failure to ease tension.
The movie shows characters smoking, drinking and sometimes cursing. It also depicts scenes of war.
Pray the Devil Back to Hell
This documentary utilizes real footage to highlight the efforts of Liberian women who formed a peace group to defeat the war that haunted their country. The initial bloodshed began from a divide between Muslims and Christians, yet the women who formed this union came from both backgrounds. The child soldiers and the overall sorrow that roamed the streets were one of the major reasons for unionizing. Their demand for peace was a significant move forward for women across the world, especially since this happened under Charles Taylor’s presidency.
This film shows graphic images. It’s available on Amazon, Netflix and YouTube.
First They Killed My Father
“First They Killed My Father,” directed by Angelina Jolie, is based on a book written by Loung Ung. The film follows Ung’s journey through Cambodia under Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. Social concerns, such as child soldiers, ethnic cleansing and traditional gender roles are evident in the film.
Similar to Ishmael Beah, author of “A Long Way Gone: memoirs of a boy soldier,” Ung goes through a sudden series of events that drastically change her life. Both of their journeys lead them to camps filled with child soldiers. I recommend reading both books for a better understanding of the similarities and differences between their experiences. Although Beah’s experience was ruthless, both stories portray how child soldiers are recruited and brainwashed.
This thought-provoking, tear-jerking film can be found on Netflix.
Unlike the rest of the suggested films, “Whore’s Glory” is about sexworkers in Mexico, Bangladesh and Thailand. The documentary tells the story of several women’s daily routines as sexworkers. The circumstances in which every woman lives vary between the countries documented. Poverty, fear and abuse are all things these women share. Some women choose sexwork, but many of them are sold to the brothels and are essentially sex slaves.
Farina considers the uncensored scenes in Mexico to be a powerful portrayal of normalizing sex work, which is against the norm.
While watching this film, expect to see explicit content and language. The women featured in the film do not represent all of the female sexworkers in these regions.
This documentary is currently on Netflix.