Women Are Heroes is a visual journey through womanhood in places such as Morro da Provincia favelas (Rio de Janeiro), the slums of Kenya (Kibera, Nairobi), Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Monrovia (Liberia) and Kashmir (India). The artist and director JR interviews women in these places about their lives and the tragedies that have shaped their existence. At the same time, JR recreates the place into public galleries with huge black and white photos depicting close-ups of the women on walls, roofs, bridges, ramps and travelling trains.
At first everything is black and white. Close-ups of a girl’s face twisted in pain and agony. Seconds later, details reveal that the girl in the picture is giving birth. Then the scene is set to join the director on a global journey exploring womanhood and the struggles women have to live through – most of them due to the existence of men. In many ways JR’s debut documentary is a celebration of women. It’s a film about the ongoing courage and diligence of women, about all the obstacles encountered by women who live in harsh and violent environments such as the favelas (shanty towns) of Rio de Janeiro, the slums of Kibera, Kenya and poor neighbourhoods in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The problems and challenges of the women are many and often related to social and economic issues. Most of all, however, men are the problem in JR’s film. If he does not die in their arms or in a random shoot-out in the streets outside their home he most likely abuses the women, is violent and even rapes them. It is difficult and somewhat devastating to listen to and observe all these painful and hard destinies but they are told with such courage and hope that most of the viewer’s bad conscience disappears.
The women that JR and his research crew have been able to find are just amazing. Take for instance an elderly lady in Kashmir, India. As a child she grew up on the streets, never went to school and used to build foundations of buildings with just her hands and a hammer. She even helped build the foundation of the local university where she now teaches sociology and gender studies. She retells her life with great passion and without remorse. Often a big smile and wonderful, life-affirming laughter pass across her face. Other women in the film are less lucky but all of them take a stand in their life and start to build from there. No matter how hard the reality is, there is always hope; you can see it in their eyes and mimicking expressions.
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