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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Daughters of Destiny is a four-part documentary series about a school for India's poorest children, and some of the young female students there. Moving and honest, the series contains a few anecdotes and ideas that may be too mature for young viewers, such as one girl explaining that her dad was probably murdered by people who were angry that he married her (lower-caste) mom, and a women admitting that her husband committed suicide because he couldn't pay a debt. There are also images that may disturb young/sensitive viewers: children living in poverty, very young children helping with sweatshop-type labor, people working in a rock quarry with no protective gear. Still, this documentary is full of positive messages from the hardworking students and the adults who help them, and may be particularly touching to teens, who may realize how good they have it at home and school.
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What's the story?
In 1996, Indian-born American success story Dr. Abraham George sold out -- to a Fortune 500 company. He plowed everything he had into The Shanti Bhavan Children's Project, a school for India's poorest children. Each year, the school takes in children from nearby impoverished villages, caring for the children from when they first enter the school to when they get their first job. The children come to live at Shanti Bhavan when they are age 4. They don't leave until they're ready to go to college. DAUGHTERS OF DESTINY introduces us to five young Shanti Bhavan girls from the so-called "untouchable" caste. Following them from ages 7 to 23 over the course of four episodes, we learn about their challenges and their triumphs as they attempt what seems nearly impossible: to lift their own families and as many others as possible out of poverty.
Is it any good?
With every-shot-a-painting visuals and startlingly honest interviews with participants, this documentary earns its four-hour running time. The girls we're introduced to quickly emerge as individuals: impish Thenmozhi, conflicted Karthika, Manjula, whose own family thinks her schooling is a waste of time, and who sleeps (or doesn't) on a hard stone floor with her mother and grandmother. The same mother and grandmother that she must leave to attend school at Shanti Bhavan, a reality the series doesn't shy away from: The very first scene we see is of teary-eyed mothers and sometimes-shrieking 4-year-olds, separating for the first time.
And yet we see, too, how the experiment seems to be working -- how Shanti Bhavan widens these children's horizons and expands their opportunities. In Thenmozhi's house, her mother sits all day making matchboxes just to have enough food to feed the family. Thenmozhi's older sister, who was not invited to attend the school -- only one child per family is accepted -- has already started to make the matchbooks too, dully watching dubbed Cartoon Network shows as she works. Thenmozhi now dreams of being a vet, an ambition, she frankly tells us, she wouldn't have had without Shanti Bhavan. She also tells us if she had one wish, it would be that her mother would come take her home, that very day, and she could be with her mother. Hope, at great cost. Daughters of Destiny shows us both, and makes us hope for these girls too.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Shanti Bhavan and the students who go there. Does it sound hard to leave your entire family and go to boarding school? Do you think the parents miss their children? Why are they prizing their children's education over emotions?
Documentary films are supposed to show real life. Do they? How does the presence of the filmmakers change how the subjects act? Is it possible to capture people realistically if they know they're being filmed?
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