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Thanks, They’ll be Here All Month: Free Online Film Fest Celebrates Real Women

We Can Be Heroes

What does Shadya Zoabi, a 17-year-old Arab-Muslim karate champion from Israel, have in common with Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize? Both of them share their stories in free online documentaries this month as part of ITVS’ Women and Girls Lead Film Festival.

Eleven hour-long films in all are being showcased as part of Women’s History Month, including the 5-part PBS Miniseries Women, War, and Peace. The fest features documentaries from all over the world and topics ranging from a group of prison moms who formed a Girl Scout Troop, to the problem of misogyny and homophobia in hip-hop culture, to Shadya’s story as the 2003 Israel national karate champ.

Shadya’s position as an Arab-Israeli woman is a precarious one. While we watch her kick ass and taking names in competitions all across the Middle East, her participation in the sport draws condemnation from her brothers, friends, and fiancee. Even the trailer had me cheering:

Shadya’s most challenging fights aren’t on the mat but with the traditionalist, male-dominated society that she has to live within. Even when she’s in her wedding dress, she rolls her eyes and says, “They can lock me in this dress, but they can’t lock me up forever.” Of course, it’s never that easy, but Shadya’s spirit shines through. You can watch the film here.

At a moment where a lot of attention is being directed at Africa, three other films are especially refreshing: Pushing the Elephant, which tells the stories of Congolese refugee and peace advocate Rose Mapendo and her 17-year-old daughter Nangabire, Shayfeeden.com: We’re Watching You, which chronicles three Egyptian women and their role in ensuring accountability and legitimacy in the 2005 elections, and Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai. Founder of Kenya’s Green Belt movement, Maathai’s path to the Nobel is an especially incredible story. In a land devastated by deforestation, Maathai began by simply teaching women to plant trees. From the film description:

Maathai soon discovered that tree planting had a ripple effect of empowering change. In the mid-1980s, Kenya was ruled by the repressive regime of Daniel arap Moi, whose dictatorship outlawed group gatherings and the right of association. In tending their nurseries, women had a legitimate reason to gather outside their homes and discuss the roots of their problems. They soon found themselves working against deforestation, poverty, ignorance, embedded economic interests, and government corruption; they became a national political force that helped to bring down the country’s 24-year dictatorship.

While Americans debate whether Ugandans can “stop Kony” without our help, Taking Root shows us that in neighboring Kenya, women are combating violence, forming political parties, and and much, much more. Watch the film here.

The best part? All 11 films are free for streaming online through the end of March. See the full list here. Who needs Netflix?

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