Waris (Liya Kebede) grows up in Somalia. When she’s supposed to get married to an old man at the age of 12, she flees her family and makes her way through the desert and – over various stops – finally to London. After years of struggling there, she meets Marylin (Sally Hawkins) and gets some footing. Some time later, she’s discovered by photographer Terry Donaldson (Timothy Spall) and becomes a supermodel. Soon she reveals that she’s been circumcised and starts a crusade against the practice.
I remember reading Desert Flower about 12 years ago and I was very impressed with the story (though the quality of the book is not that high). The movie does a good job chronicling Dirie’s fascinating life, focussing on her struggles as an illegal alien and then as a human rights activist more than on her modelling.
The practice of female circumcision is atrocious and it’s always good to remind people of that. It seems to be forgotten regularly. The movie focusses on that aspect – of Dirie’s growing up in Somalia and just slowly realising how mutilated she actually was. And rightly so. While the rags-to-riches aspect of Dirie’s life is of course wonderful, it’s a fairy tale (albeit one that really happened) and female circumcision is the reality.
Sherry Hormann does a good job combining these two elements, though, telling the fairy tale but letting the reality mantle it all.
Of course, it was incredibly lucky that they got such a good cast. Liya Kebede not only fulfills the visual aspect [that woman is beautiful!] but can act as well. Timothy Spall was very good [didn't make me go PETER PETTIGREW! once]. But the real star of the movie was Sally Hawkins. Such a comedic talent. She makes two gestures and says a word and I’m laughing my ass off.
Though the comedic aspect doesn’t make light of the story, it is desperately needed so that you don’t cry all the time. [I almost did anyway.]
Though I usually don’t propagate watching a movie instead of a book, this time I can only recommend it. In the movie, you get all the important things from the book and the quality is much better than Dirie’s writing. And I think that it’s important that a lot of people see this film and educate themselves (in an entertaining way) about female genital mutilation.
So go ahead and watch it. In the meantime, you can look a little more at Liya Kebede.