Desert Flower

  • Review Date: April 9, 2011
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 120 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Mature biopic has moving drama but lacks coherence.
  • Review Date: April 9, 2011
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 120 minutes





What parents need to know

Positive messages

Despite her impoverished origins, Waris Dirie manages to become a world-famous model. Her difficult journey would likely have had a very different ending if not for her determination, drive, and a decent amount of good luck.

Positive role models

Some characters respond to a foreign woman with condescension and insults. But she refuses to let their feeling affect her own and manages to rise above -- very far above -- her humble roots.


A woman discusses her experience with genital mutilation. In flashbacks, a young girl is shown being sold to an old man as his fourth wife; later, a man attempts to rape her. A man menaces his wife. A young girl endures genital mutilation in a harrowing scene; the actual act isn't seen, but the girl’s face and her screams, as well as the blood on the midwife’s hands, tell the story.


Prostitutes are seen loitering on the streets. Women walk around in their towels in the shower (quick glimpses of their backsides). A couple is glimpsed having sex (the woman is seen astride the man, her back bare). A model is asked to pose nude and is seen from behind. She kisses another model during the photo shoot.


“Suck,” “s--t,” and “f--k.”


Signage for McDonald’s.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Social drinking in a nightclub. A man gets drunk at home and bickers with his wife.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this biopic about Waris Dirie -- who was born into a Somalian desert tribe, then ran away from an arranged marriage as a young teen and made her way to London, where she became a world-famous supermodel -- deals with mature themes and subject matter, though in a dignified manner. Of particular note is the film's focus on female genital mutilation, a common ritual in east Africa that Dirie endured as a young child; the mutilation isn't shown on screen, but there are screams and blood. Expect some drinking and swearing (including "f--k" and "s--t"), and some violent moments (including attempted rape).

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Kids say

What's the story?

Before Waris Dirie (Liya Kebede) became a world-renowned supermodel, she was a terrified young girl from a nomadic tribe in Somalia who ran away to escape an arranged marriage. DESERT FLOWER is based on Dirie’s amazing real-life journey and shows how an impoverished refugee in London was discovered by a photographer (Timothy Spall) and became a fashion sensation. The film also focuses on female genital mutilation, a sadly common ritual in east Africa that Dirie was forced to endure at the age of 3. She was one of the first to publicly discuss this dangerous tradition and has helped draw the world’s attention to a custom that subjugates millions of women around the world.

Is it any good?


Desert Flower is an important movie, but not a great one. Dirie’s life-story is inspiring, her experiences as young girl are tragic, and her ability to speak out against a custom that has long been hidden is impressive. But the movie feels like a string of scenes stitched together, and they sometimes lack narrative structure. The film certainly has an important message, but it tries too hard to make its point. Although we feel for the character because of what she’s done, that's despite of the way her story is told rather than because of it.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the film's subject matter. Is it intended to shock or educate? Is it effective?

  • Do you consider Dirie a role model? How is she assisted in her journey?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:March 18, 2011
DVD release date:July 19, 2011
Cast:Liya Kebede, Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall
Director:Sherry Horman
Studio:National Geographic
Run time:120 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:some violent content, a scene of sexuality and language

This review of Desert Flower was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
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  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Teen, 15 years old Written byevolinag March 24, 2012

Heartbreaking, powerful biopic. Mature teens only.

"Desert Flower" is the true story of African model Waris Dirie, who became famous when talking about the tradition female circumsition in an interview. The whole movie is magnificent - especially as it is a true story. Especially the speech at the end is one of the most powerful and emotional scenes in movie history. And so is the movie. One of the most outstanding and heartbreaking movies of all time. "Desert Flower" is the important story of one of the bravest women in the world that really deserves to be seen. (SPOILERS may follow) This movie is brutal, though. Violence goes hand-in-hand with sexuality. The circumsation part is very violent. The young girl (whose public area is visible BEFORE the mutilation) has her clitoris and her labia cut out and has everything stitched together then. You see the upper body only, and the child screams in pain, it is hard to watch, even for adults. The movie is emotional and intense. The talk about the circumsition is very graphic and intense. There is a very brief sex scene. It lasts for about 3 seconds and is only shown from behind. A young girl is about to be raped (?) and beats the man unconcious with a stone (not as strong as it sounds). A man gets drunk and yells at Waris. Several times Waris is nude, but you never see anything explicit, only the behind. There is R-profanity. Waris Dirie is a very inspiring, a heroine and a real role model. The movie has strong positive messages. I watched this movie at the age of 14 and i could handle it. Viewers of this age may be emotionally touched by it, but not disturbed.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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