On Her Shoulders

A powerful documentary film about Nadia Murad, a survivor of the Yazidi genocide. It is a film about the performance of trauma, how it is necessary for the media to spread awareness of an issue effectively and to bring the reality of abstract policy to politicians. But also how damaging, and at times surreal, it is for those who have do it, who have to tell their stories over and over again.

The life Nadia has found herself in is one of a strange kind of celebrity. Among the Yazidi diaspora community she is an icon and a hero, bringing their despair to the world’s attention. It is a burden that weighs on her heavily and that she takes very seriously. But the actual practicalities of her day-to-day life doing that involve getting her hair done, picking out outfits, timing her speeches, and posing for photo after photo. She is this strange mix of model and actress, which contrasts starkly with her whole reason for being there, which she is ever conscious of.

The perpetual churn of media interviews and speeches at the UN and speeches at activist events makes you wonder how much longer this woman, barely into adulthood, can keep reliving the worst day of her life. And why she should have to. Why each media channel needs the same story with its own branding on it, why each committee needs the same testimony reiterated to it. But the bite of it is, it is effective. Her oration, her delivery, moves for bipartisan support for Yazidi refugees in the Canadian Parliament and an investigation into the genocide by the UN. But at what cost to her?

The film concludes with Nadia becoming the first UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking who is themselves a survivor of human trafficking. She wants only the chance to return to her homeland and rebuild her village. But whether her sacrifices, the exposure of her wounds again and again to public scrutiny, will actually reap tangible change for her people is a question that remains unanswered.