On Her Shoulders




A striking but overlong film about an extraordinary woman and what she stands for.

On Her Shoulders


Back in 2015, Davis Guggenheim's moving documentary He Named Me Malala studied the remarkable young activist Malala Yousafzai. Malala's fame is probably even greater than that of Nadia Murad who is the subject of this film by Alexandria Bombach, but these two exceptional women have much in common, both being victims of circumstance who were strengthened by experiences that could easily have ruined their lives.


In Malala's case, she was shot by the Taliban while still a schoolgirl in Pakistan but she survived. In consequence, having been targeted for following in her father's footsteps and speaking out for female education, she went on to become an inspirational and internationally known figure discussing what had happened to her and promoting ever more widely the issues that from early on had meant so much to her. Nadia's home in contrast was in a village in Northern Iraq. There, at the age of 21 in August 2014, she witnessed an attack by Isis: they killed some 700 people including members of Nadia's own family and she herself was raped repeatedly, many of the surviving women being treated as sex slaves.


Like Malala, Nadia became an outspoken activist once she was free to do that. Nadia turned her life into an ongoing cry for help, one urging that action be taken in response to this genocide that had brought such suffering to her religious community, the Yazidi. These killings and the subsequent displacement of those left alive (they were split apart by being sent to different refugee camps) threatened the very survival of this minority group (it would appear that only some half a million are now living). Nadia, travelling to countries as diverse as America, Greece and Canada, both gave encouragement to those displaced in this way and urged political and legal action. Amal Clooney was one of the lawyers involved in seeking legal action through the courts by accusing the Isis commanders of war crimes and Nadia herself would become a UN Goodwill Ambassador.


Making a film about Nadia Murad does mean that she has to tell her harrowing story all over again. However, while this could have seemed like an invasion of privacy adding to the burden she already has to bear, seeing her makes us realise that being in a film was clearly helping her to fulfil her strong desire to inform the world of this injustice as only she can. The one drawback here lies in the fact that, in contrast to the situation with Malala in which the family background added to the compelling material, Nadia's tale, striking as it is, is less wide-ranging in its scope as material for a feature film. If Alexandria Bombach had set out to make a piece for television, she could have given us a compelling hour-long work. By opting instead for a cinema release she has given us a film lasting 94 minutes and it feels overextended (there is, for example, very touching footage showing Yazidi refugees in Greece, but to visit not one but three camps housing them in that country seems quite unnecessary). Nadia herself obviously deserves to be honoured but, while everything at the core of this film is admirable, I cannot but help wishing that Bombach had gone for a shorter televisual presentation. That said, those who were stirred by the film about Malala will find On Her Shoulders deeply sympathetic.




Featuring  Nadia Murad, Marud Ismael, Amal Clooney, Ki-moon Ban, Alexandria Bombach.


Dir Alexandria Bombach, Pro Hayley Pappas and Brock Williams, Ph Alexandria Bombach, Ed Alexandria Bombach, Music Patrick Jonsson.


RYOT Films/Red Reel-Dogwoof.
94 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 25 January 2019. Cert. 12A.