FEMINIST FRIDAY: 2018 Human Rights Watch Film Festival Highlights Women Who Fight Back

Welcome to another Feminist Friday! That part of our week we get to geek out and fangirl over our fave feminist videos of the moment. This week all our videos come from the 2018 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, an annual film showcase shining a light on courageous activists from around the world.

This year’s lineup is dominated by women’s stories and work. Not only are 12 out of the 15 films directed by women, but the timely focus on how women are amplifying and using their voices for change underscores the female driven movements we are seeing across the globe right now.

“In a year when women have spoken out against abuse, harassment and oppression, the festival highlights the outstanding work of women filmmakers telling epic stories of women fighting injustice with resilience and courage.” said John Biaggi, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival creative director.

The festival ran from June 14-21 in New York City, and whether you were able to attend or not, these films are worth seeking out in your local theaters or looking out for on demand. The first trailer we want to highlight is Alexandria Bombach’s ‘On Her Shoulders’ which screened on opening night, and which also won a documentary directing award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Nadia Murad is a 23-year-old lifeline to the Yezidi community. A survivor of the 2014 atrocities against the Yezidi in northern Iraq, Nadia escaped sexual slavery at the hands of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and witnessed the murder of those closest to her. With the love of her people propelling her forward, Nadia is determined to turn her pain into international action.

She now shoulders immense burdens as a key public figure whose supporters are pushing her further into the spotlight – from testifying at the United Nations Security Council and having endless meetings with government officials, to giving soul-baring media interviews and emotionally draining speeches. ‘On Her Shoulders’ tells the story of a multi-layered and selfless activist who once dreamed of opening a beauty salon in her village as she becomes an essential voice in the fight to bring ISIS to justice and save her people from extinction.

The second film we want to highlight is ‘The Unafraid’, by filmmakers Anayansi Prado and Heather Courtney, which explores the experience of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students struggling to fight for their own education as they face a very uncertain future.

High School seniors Alejandro, Silvia, and Aldo, like most of their friends, are eager to go to college and pursue their education. However, their home state of Georgia not only bans them from attending the top five public universities, but also deems them ineligible for in-state tuition at public colleges due to their immigration status as DACA recipients.

In response, these three ambitious and dream-filled students divert their passions towards the fight for education in the undocumented community. As President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric against immigrants gains momentum, and amid constant threat of losing their DACA status and being deported, ‘The Unafraid’ follows these inspirational members of the generation of “undocumented, unapologetic and unafraid” young people who are determined to overcome and dismantle oppressive policies and mindsets.

The final video we want to highlight is ‘A Thousand Girls Like Me’, from filmmaker Sahra Mani. Focusing on the issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan, the film follows a young mother seeking justice from a legal system designed to criminalize sexual abuse survivors like her.

“Every woman in this country has a hundred owners. Fathers, brothers, uncles, neighbors. They all believe they have the right to speak on our behalf and make decisions for us. That’s why our stories are never heard, but buried with us.” said Sahra Mani.

When Khatera, a 23-year-old Afghan woman, forces her father to stand trial after a lifetime of sexual abuse, she risks her family, freedom, and personal safety to expose a judicial system that incriminates the very women who seek protection. In a country where the systematic abuse of girls is rarely discussed, Afghan filmmaker Sahra Mani presents an awe-inspiring story of one woman’s battle against cultural, familial, and legal pressures as she embarks on a mission to set a positive example for her daughter and other girls like her.


  1. We love good movies.

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