A Girl from Mogadishu director Mary McGuckian writes for RTÉ Culture about how she brought her new film to life
It's been a privilege and a joy bringing Ifrah’s uniquely powerful story to the screen. But most of all, it’s been a responsibility.
A story that intersects many forms of GBV, (gender-based violence), from child marriage to sexual violence in conflict, from sex trafficking to harmful practices, and most particularly FGM, (female genital mutilation). But fundamentally, an up-lifting story about the power of testimony with the potential to inspire. How when one woman has the courage to speak up and tell her truth, no matter how unspeakable, she can be channel for change.
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Ifrah Ahmed’s charismatic capacity to transcend the particulars of her experiences and unite forces in support of the universal human rights cause her eponymous foundation supports, namely the elimination of FGM by 2030, is as impressive as it is inspiring.
The making of the movie benefitted from its own intersection between story-telling and impact ambitions. My job was to ensure that the single-character narrative of the birth of an Irish-Somali activist would sing; conscious of the pitfalls of the material. A balance needed to be struck between over-sensationalising and underrepresenting. And rigor applied to the intentions behind portraying Ifrah’s - sadly far from unique - GBV experiences and their physical portrayal to ensure we would engage the audience emotionally without brutalizing it but at the same time not shy away from the issues.
Creating these scenes in a manner that neither objectified the characters or the actors nor subjected the audience to a level of trauma that might alienate it was a constant worry. The burden of finding a balance between what the Americans call 'sugar-coating’ and what the French dismiss when their suspension of disbelief is scundered as ‘n’importe quoi’, weighed with me. In the end, Ifrah is such a charismatic, compelling and inspiring character that her achievements transcend the brutality of her experiences and thankfully stakeholder audiences have responded emotionally to the integrity and authenticity of her story.
The intersection between the film as an uplifting story and its impact on the issue at large also had to be balanced if the project was to stand on its own merit as a piece of filmmaking. Films about women are historically hard to get off the ground. ‘Issue’ films about African women are almost unheard of. In an industry still struggling to embrace inclusivity and diversity in front of and behind the camera, getting A Girl from Mogadishu off the ground at all felt ground-breaking.
Announced as commencing pre-production the very week the hashtag #MeToo trended out of the Pulitzer prize winning articles in the New York Times, the irony of the timing of the film’s underlying thesis; ‘the power or testimony’; was not lost on the project’s producers, financiers, cast, crew and supporters.
I hope everyone who gave so generously of their talent and time to making the movie sing are buoyed by the emotional responses and deservedly proud of the impact the film is having on the FGM issue at a global level.
A Girl from Mogadishu is in cinemas and on demand now.