Women in the World

‘Girl Rising’: New Film Sends Powerful Message About Educating Young Women

The film, which will be released March 7, advocates for the education of girls around the world. Eliza Shapiro reports.

“When you educate girls, good things happen,” Newsweek and Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown told a crowd gathered Monday night to watch a screening of Girl Rising, an upcoming film advocating for girls’ education around the world, particularly in developing countries.

“This is the message Malala has been fighting for her life to spread,” Brown said, referring to Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani education activist who recently was released from the hospital after being shot by members of the Taliban.

Girl Rising, which will be released on March 7, tells the stories of nine girls in countries from Haiti to Nepal who fought for their chance to go to school in spite of extreme poverty, natural disasters, and even forced labor.

The film’s narrators include Alicia Keys, Anne Hathaway, and Meryl Streep.

The leaders of 10x10, the social-action campaign releasing Girl Rising, traveled across the globe in search of inspiring girls and their quests for a good education.

Martha Adams, the film’s producer, says she interviewed hundreds of young women before narrowing down the group and matching each girl with a writer from her own country who could help tell her story.

Adams remembered interviewing a Cambodian girl who had spent her youth as a trash collector in the slums of Phnom Penh before finally going to school, and asking who she would most like to meet in the world.

The girl had an unusual answer: Bill Clinton, she said, explaining that she had found pictures of Clinton in discarded newspapers in trash heaps. She eventually got to meet the former president at last year’s Women in the World conference.

“These nine stories are the stories of millions of girls,” said Holly Gordon, 10x10’s executive director. “The individual stories are not remarkable; they focus a light on barriers girls face to getting an education every day.”

After the screening Tom Yellin, a journalist by training and the executive producer of 10x10 and Girl Rising, spoke about the delicate balance journalists must have when engaging in advocacy.

“The facts that support this issue are overwhelming,” he said, adding that 66 million girls around the world are out of school.

Yellin said his team tried to avoid what he called “fly-in-the-eye filmmaking”—documentaries in which the subjects are victims and viewers are made to feel guilty and donate as much money as possible.

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He said the creators of Girl Rising tried not to make a film about a collection of unique heroes but rather about a group of girls whose experience struggling to go to school is all too common.

The 10x10 campaign is kicking off an effort to get Girl Rising in as many local theaters as possible before its release date. In the last two weeks, the film was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and 654 theaters across the country have requested screenings of it.

Leaders of 10x10 say that, with so many young women unable to access even basic education, this must be the moment to fight for universal education for girls.

“All of you can bring these stories to your corners of the world,” Gordon said.