A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that On Her Shoulders is a documentary that looks at the agony of war, genocide, and sex trafficking through the eyes and work of Yazidi survivor-turned-activist Nadia Murad. The graphic details of her experience aren't shown or shared, but the facts of the story -- which involve murder, rape, and more --- are horrific enough. Despite these grim facts, the film is designed to raise awareness and empathy by focusing on the tenacity and voice of one 23-year-old woman (and on the toll that being the spokesperson for her people takes on her). It also provides an inside look at the mechanics of activism, the importance and challenge of persuasive speech, and the exhausting effort required to spread a message. Murad is an excellent example of resilience, perseverance, courage, and communication and is now a Nobel Peace Prize Winner. But it takes willpower and maturity to watch the pressure and emotional turmoil Nadia is living with, which may be challenging for younger viewers.
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What's the story?
ON HER SHOULDERS follows Nadia Murad, a survivor of ISIS' 2014 attempted genocide of the Yazidis, as she travels the world to raise awareness of the atrocities she endured and gain support for measures that will help her people. Having first garnered attention as a woman who narrowly escaped sex trafficking, she has been propelled into the role of Yazidi activist. A quiet, poised, and well-spoken young woman, Nadia finds herself becoming the voice of her people -- and their only hope.
Is it any good?
This is a documentary of vital importance, highlighting both a dreadful injustice and the admirable fortitude of a future Nobel Peace Prize winner, and yet it's sometimes a struggle to watch. Nadia is an intelligent, impressive role model, and there's much to be gleaned about the human condition from watching On Her Shoulders. The film offers many unexpected insights, including how to interview subjects with sensitivity, the verbal precision required to motivate action, and what's expected of a leader.
But Nadia's story is so horrific that even without the gory details (which director Alexandria Bombach graciously omits), it's painful to bear witness to it. Bombach expresses viewers' feelings by using footage of Nadia's meetings with foreign dignitaries who are compassionate about Nadia's pleas but awkwardly explain that they can't make any commitments. We want to feel that expected rah-rah swell of inspiration, but instead we feel drained. Perhaps this film's brilliance lies in awakening audiences to the reality that being an aspirational change-maker is grueling. Or perhaps the dread comes from the realization that Nadia may be a phenomenal hero, but she's also an exhausted, traumatized pawn in her own game -- of which the documentary is just another move.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the inevitable unexpected hardships in life. What life skills do we as humans possess to help us work through difficult events? Nadia said she realized that talk therapy wasn't the way she wanted to process her trauma. Do you think her activism is a form of therapy, or is it delaying her healing?
To achieve her goal, Nadia must be constantly courageous and perseverant and exhibit self-control. What are the various ways she displays these character strengths in On Her Shoulders? Why are they important?
How do Nadia and her coordinator, Murad Ismael, demonstrate teamwork? How do things change when well-known international law attorney Amal Clooney steps in to help them achieve their objective? Both Nadia and Clooney have achieved fame for their relentless pursuit of human rights; is fame an asset in weighty, political matters?
Nadia is an excellent communicator. What did you learn about persuasive speech? Why are good communication skills important?
What makes Nadia a role model? How are Clooney and Murad Ismael also role models? What will you take away from this documentary?
- In theaters: October 19, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: March 19, 2019
- Cast: Nadia Murad Basee Taha, Amal Clooney
- Director: Alexandria Bombach
- Studio: Oscilloscope Pictures
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Activism, Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Communication, Courage, Perseverance, Self-control, Teamwork
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
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