Desert Flower

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Desert Flower Movie Poster Image
Mature biopic has moving drama but lacks coherence.
  • R
  • 2011
  • 120 minutes

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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 & Representations

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.

What 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).

User Reviews

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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... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids 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

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