She Survived the Unthinkable to Tell Her Story
Title: On Her Shoulders
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1hr & 34mins
*** (out of ****)
Nadia Murad Basee Taha never wanted any of this. She just wanted to further her career as a seamstress, to continue be an amateur makeup artist, and to live her life. Murad lived in Yazda in Northern Iraq, which in August 2014 was overrun with ISIL militants, who raided the city and raped and imprisoned many, including Murad herself. After her rape, she was sold into sexual slavery for ISIL, which was vying for control of the region at the time and would eventually have it. She barely escaped with her life, and her story became an international headline, leading to her assignment as an ambassador with the United Nations.
Director Alexandria Bombach allows her an outlet to tell her story with On Her Shoulders, though the documentary has a bit more on its mind than just that. The “this” of which Murad never wanted any includes the aftermath of her survival story. She never wanted the unintentional fame that would arise from her account of the crisis of the Yazidi people and of her own abduction and slavery. The portrait of Murad provided to us is one of a strong young woman whose strength has, quite apparently, almost left her. She moves, interacts, and even smiles while barely repressing an obvious and unsurprising exhaustion.
That exhaustion, of course, isn’t sleepiness but a more existential kind of exhaustion. Every movement is the struggle of a person who just wants to curl up into a ball and retreat from society for a while. She does, though, carry the weight of an entire people – 700 of whom, it is guessed, were murder or imprisoned in the conflict – and their hoped-for freedom within her willingness and ability to speak on their behalf. Bombach spends several months following Murad’s return to society after her escape.
She eventually meets Murad, a relief worker from Houston who has an Iraqi heritage and offers a compassionate shoulder on which to lean, and Amal Clooney, an attorney whose surname connects her with celebrity and provides her a stature with those in power that Murad herself lacks in the first weeks of her campaign. The United Nations and, specifically, a handful of conservative and liberal members alike eventually take notice. Her position as ambassador, though, comes at a steep price, which for her is the cadre of questions about her rise to fame – impertinent and superficial questions. In On Her Shoulders, Murad would much rather be asked about the people still imprisoned by the Islamic State, and that is a desire etched into every exhausted line of her face.
(Review by Joel Copling)
(Review by Chase Lee)