On Her Shoulders is a powerful look into the day to day life of Nadia Murad, an activist who fights for her people by sharing her deeply personal and traumatic story. (KAC: 4.5/5)
Review by FF2 Intern Katharine Cutler
Nadia Murad Basee Taha is one of the strongest women you’ll ever see. Despite being captured and tortured by ISIS in 2014, she managed to escape and now fights for the rights of her people, a persecuted minority in Iraq. The Yazidis are an often persecuted minority and today, with help from Yazda, a Yazidi non-profit, Nadia represents them all on the world stage.
In 2015, Nadia spoke about her experiences in front of the UN Security Council. This documentary follows her journey to try to speak at the opening session of the UN General Assembly in September of 2016. Throughout the film, Nadia’s life is ripped apart. The filmmaker chose not to show or explain the trauma she went through while being captured by ISIS, instead of letting you see Nadia as more than a victim or a survivor.
This choice highlights the importance of framing women as more than their trauma. While Nadia’s traumatic life is why she’s fighting today, it’s important to know and remember her through her positive work for her people and not by what happened to her. This documentary frames her as the subject of her story, refusing to objectify her as a victim. She’s more than what happened to her and the film lets us see that, exploring who she is inside and outside her role as the Yazidis chosen representative on the world stage.
Alexandria Bombach, the director of the film, does an excellent job at representing Nadia. She portrays every element of her, forcing her image to be more than what the media has presented her as. Nadia is a survivor, but she’s also just a person. Bombach wants us to digest this: Nadia is special and we should respect her, but she’s also not an idol or a saint. Bombach is careful not to lionize her in the way that she has been by media organizations, ambassadors, and other national representatives.
The film does an amazing job exploring the complicated politics of the UN as a global organization without straying from Nadia’s story. The delve into global politics helps the audience understand exactly what’s at stake. Nadia continuously meets with world leaders, some who help her and others who give empty promises. Bombach is quick to point out the hypocrisy of those leaders, yet doesn’t let you rest between these moments. She deftly frames the political atmosphere that Nadia has to get through and keeps all attention on Nadia and her goals. While world politics is a mess, Bombach doesn’t let us leave Nadia.
While watching the film, I had a particularly difficult time. Most of the people in the audience started crying at one point, but I didn’t think I was allowed to. As a young woman with a lot of privilege, the film made me evaluate my standing in Nadia’s life as well. What does crying do to help her; wouldn’t I be the same as all the politicians who cry and hug her only to do nothing after? This may not have been Bombach’s main goal, but I think the criticism surrounding how people respond to Nadia reaches past the characters in the film and moves into the audience. It is important to say that this takes some self-reflection on the part of the audience which I don’t think everyone can do, but the theme is there for everyone to explore.
This film does an amazing job looking at Nadia and this short period in her life. Bombach explores who she is and what her journey means to her people without exploiting either group. Nadia’s life is captured from every angle and we see her past the saintly image constantly published. She is no idol; she is just a person and that’s what Bombach wants us to remember.
© Katharine Cutler (10/29/18) FF2 Media
Top Photo: Nadia at a rally.
Middle Photo: Nadia in a politician’s office.
Bottom Photo: Nadia speaking to other Yazidi survivors.
Photo Credits: RYOT Films
Q: Does On Her Shoulders pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
Everything is about Nadia and she speaks with many other women from reporters to national representatives to Yazidi women.