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October 27, 2015

Review: Angelina Jolie’s Sundance Hit ‘Difret’ Is A Radical Tale In The Fight For Women’s Equality


Richy Rosario / Vibe

As the old adage goes, “Well behaved women rarely make history,” but what happens when that “misbehavior” is a tactic used for survival? Enter Difret, which depicts the plight of 14-year-old Hirut in her native Ethiopia, when seven men abduct her in efforts to get her to succumb to an arranged marriage. Hirut’s unfortunate circumstances in Difret, executive produced by Angelina Jolie Pitt, tells the real-life story of Aberash Bekele, a young advocate who tackles violence against women, andtelefa, the kidnapping of child brides in the African country.

Bekele was 14-years-old when she was put on trial for killing a 29-year-old farmer, who tried to force her to marry him by abducting and raping her. She was the first young woman in history to ever resist this practice, which led her to win the case, and change Ethiopia’s political climate against women forever. At its best, Difret is synonymous with all things feminism. The film begins by showcasing an older woman’s struggle with domestic violence from her husband, as she visits bada** lawyer, Meaza Ashenafi’s (Meron Getnet) office. After she tells Meaza that the popular opinion around town is that her husband loves her and his abuse is a show of affection, the fearless attorney takes matter into her own hands. In true she-ro fashion, she visits the woman’s husband and tells him if he doesn’t stop, he will lose his job. Surely enough, the beatings stop.

When Ashenafi comes across Hirut’s case, she makes it her full-time job to fight the legal system for this girl’s justice. Directed and written by Zeresnay Berhane Mehari alongside producer, Mehret Mandefro, the film pans out like a documentary in comparison to a big Hollywood production, providing a more authentic feel. Difret is also not for the lighthearted. Many scenes, like Hirut’s abduction or when she is sent to live in an orphanage, may make you grab for the Kleenex.

Witnessing Meaza trek through a patriarchal, male-dominated society, and Ethiopia’s unjust legal system is a powerful call-to-action. What’s most captivating is witnessing the Hirut’s bravery when she escapes and kills her abductor, deciding in that moment not to conform to the societal norms she’s lived under. If Aberash Bekele had never been on trial for murder, Ethiopian girls today would still be abducted. If Malala Yousafzai had never fought the Taliban for an education, she never would have been the youngest to win a Nobel Peace Prize and become an advocate for young women’s equal rights.

Difret isn’t just about Aberash Bekele’s story. Its plot transcends the confines of a country’s troubled socio-political views of women, and moreso serves as a message for women of all ages and races that to get justice, sometimes you have to break the “so-called” rules.