On Her Shoulders

On Her Shoulders



SFIFF 2018 - "On Her Shoulders" 

The Yazidi people, an Iraqi religious minority, were the victims of genocide by the Islamic State in 2014 when terrorists invaded Sinjar. Men were murdered en masse and women and children were kidnapped, raped, and tortured. Some Yazidis were able to flee into the mountains, while many others perished. Nadia Murad, now twenty-five years old, escaped captivity and sexual slavery after three months and is now the first United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. On Her Shoulders documents her efforts to speak to the U.N. about the Yazidi and to bring ISIS before the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Murad is strong-willed and determined, a hero for the ages who, in October 2018, was named a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

On Her Shoulders is more than a legal advocacy documentary and more than a portrait of a survivor of unimaginable brutality who has thrived against the odds to be a leader for her people. Director Alexandria Bombach offers an artfully understated depiction of the myriad faces of trauma in a single human being. Murad appears bone-tired as she tells her story again and again to politicians, reporters, and various others who want to advocate for her people or empathize with what she's been through. Her smile is authentic but weary - and often wary - and a lightness comes to her most often in times when she is with other Yazidis. In solo camera sessions against a black backdrop, she says that journalists ask her questions she doesn't want to answer, such as "How were you raped?" and "What does it mean for you to be famous now?" She wants to be asked about the fate of her culture, what it means to have children savaged in this manner, and how her people are living with this and how they will heal. She wants to be a village girl, a farmer - not an activist. But she has no choice. She survived, so from now on she will pursue justice for everyone else.

On Her Shoulders is an important work, made in the midst of the greatest refugee and humanitarian crisis since just after World War II. Many countries are struggling with what to do about the flow of people crossing their borders, and some are attempting to close their doors to the suffering. The depth of sorrow and trauma embodied by abused and displaced people is profoundly explored in the strength and courage of Nadia Murad, traits she would likely trade in an instant for the ability to go back to her old life.

By Jennifer Levin

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