Starting on October 11th, the Human Rights Film Festival Berlin will showcase a diverse selection of films addressing human rights issues, with a significant proportion dedicated to questions related to gender equality. Despite continuous efforts and substantial progress, the battle for equal rights for nearly half of the global population remains an ongoing struggle. I delve into two documentaries that depict various facets of female abuse while also highlighting the hope that arises from victims uniting.
Bodies as objects
Even though Daughters of the Sun by Reber Dosky (2023) and Another Body by Sophie Compton and Reuben Hamlyn (2023) are seemingly different on the surface, they both centre their attention on the female body, which is subject to disrespect and objectification by men. In Daughters of the Sun, this pattern reveals itself in a terrifyingly straightforward manner. The documentary narrates a story about the Yazidi women and girls abducted from their Kurdish villages by Islamic State militants. These captives were forcibly converted to Islam and traded as sex slaves to terrorists. Many of these girls and women were repeatedly bought and resold in markets for 10, 20, or sometimes 100 dollars. The film exposes not only the terrifying violence against women but also the whole Yazidi population. The religious group has a history of being subjected to violence and systematic killings. Some states, including the UK, have now officially recognised the crimes committed by ISIS against the Yazidis in 2014 as an act of genocide.
Nonetheless, violence against women exists in various forms also within Western societies. Another Body presents the case of a young college student who discovers many deep fake pornographic videos of her on the Internet. Even more alarming is that she is not the sole victim; there exist thousands and, by now, potentially millions of such deep fake pornography videos featuring women, all generated with the assistance of artificial intelligence. Paradoxically, when the film was shot, there were no laws forbidding deep fakes in the United States of America – so the victims could not even protect themselves legally. A character in the film is angry, saying that the best professional advice she could get was to ignore the content. So, she could only hope that her harassers would leave her in peace and target someone else instead.
Despite continuous efforts and substantial progress, the battle for equal rights for nearly half of the global population remains an ongoing struggle.
Poetry and Internet aesthetics
The stories of both films benefit from the chosen visual language. Another Body plays with Internet and video game aesthetics – the main character uses a pseudonym instead of her real name; she also is not the woman we see on the screen. The mismatching of voice and visuals makes everything seem a bit artificial. The use of desktop screens and video game examples accentuates the ambiguity of truth in our highly digitalised world.
In contrast, Daughters of the Sun embraces a more silent aesthetic that refers to the roots of the protagonists’ culture. Fire and light play a significant role in the Yazidi religious rituals and are a prominent visual motif in the film. The warm light thoughtfully illuminates the faces of the Yazidi women. Their stories are intertwined with the myth of the Phoenix, who stole fire from the Gods, was burned, and then rose again from the ashes. Also, poetic references from the Yazidi culture help to emphasize hope despite the horrifying events the main protagonists were exposed to.
Hope in solidarity
And this drives the characters of the films, the filmmakers and the audience – hope. The protagonists of both films discover solace and support by connecting with other victims who share similar experiences. The Yazidi girls and women freed from ISIS connect by exchanging stories of their traumatic experiences. Through this collective sharing, they grow closer and gain the strength to deal with the profound trauma and psychological consequences of the abuse they have endured.
Likewise, Taylor, the protagonist of Another Body, joins forces with fellow victims she discovers and reaches out online. By working together, they manage to unveil the identity of the person behind the disturbing content involving them. Their collaborative efforts extend to advocating for legal changes that would prevent the culprits from continuing to produce such harassing videos without facing the consequences.
Other notable examples, like the MeToo movement, demonstrate the power of unity in driving change. While systematic oppression cannot be transformed overnight, some progress is being made through persistent effort.
The protagonists of both films discover solace and support by connecting with other victims who share similar experiences.
The struggle goes on
Gender inequality has existed for thousands of years and is deeply integrated into various cultures of this planet. Ongoing action is needed to change the deeply rooted patterns existing in both the micro and macro scales of our societies. The Human Rights Film Festival Berlin addresses women’s rights in Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, and the Western world. However, feministic topics are becoming increasingly popular in products designed for mass audiences, such as this year’s blockbuster Barbie (dir. Greta Gerwig), which addresses the topic in an entertaining and accessible manner. The film depicts two possible worlds – one where women are in power and another one where men are in power. By the film’s end, the Kens have achieved a bit more power in the matriarchal pinky Barbie world. But what about the real human universe? Is equality merely an imaginary utopia in a world which is so full of categories like gender, age, skin colour, religion, and others that have been historically used to form unequal power relationships?