We Women Warriors. Directed by Nicole Karsin. Los Angeles: Todos Los Pueblos Productions, 2012. 82 minutes.
Woman Rebel: A Portrait of a Revolution. Directed by Kiran Deol. New York: New Day Films, 2011. 37 minutes.
These films are wonderful additions to feminist film collections because they encompass so many different topics. Woman Rebel chronicles the activism of Uma Bhujel (codename Silu) during Nepal’s ten-year Maoist revolution (1996-2006) during which Silu finds a measure of equality as a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army of Nepal (PLA). The film is also Uma’s story and a snapshot of Nepali history. As such, it provides much to discuss, including issues surrounding Silu’s unquestioning loyalty to the rebel cause as she understands it.1 This film also raises questions regarding the complexity of personal and national allegiances and different types of enduring inequalities. For example, Uma joined the PLA whereas her brother fought for the National Army, which theoretically meant they could have fought directly against each other. Uma seems a little troubled when asked if she would commence fire against her brother, but Silu tows the PLA line and says that she would because she must follow PLA orders. One must ask whether she has traded one master for another because she must strictly adhere to the PLA ideology and do as she is told. It is also interesting that her parents welcome her home as does the community, since many former soldiers (rebels) are often not welcomed, cannot marry, and find themselves on the fringes of society. Is this, however, a case in which Uma’s power and status as a parliamentarian trumps any discrimination based on her involvement with the PLA? These issues raise questions about what other former female soldiers may or may not have had to face and could catalyze important discussions in the classroom.
This fine film offers a number of lessons from what is both included and excluded. The film really doesn’t explore the relationship between communism and gender equality and, depending on the level of the class, a discussion of the ideology and its practice would be beneficial. Additional talking points might include: Did women have equality in the revolution, or did they have to deny their femininity to do so? What happens to the female members of the PLA after the fighting? Are they welcomed back into society, are they integrated into a national military? Do arranged marriages remain legal? What actually changed for the average woman? These are recurring questions, often focused on communist states such as China and North Korea, concerning revolutions. Silu says that their goal was to fight until people are free, but what does this mean? And how can we measure if it has been achieved? Has Nepal fundamentally changed—socially, economically, and politically—or is at least heading in that direction? Silu says peace is not possible without violence, yet change only seems to occur after a political compromise in which the PLA agrees to set aside their arms. Perhaps the violence was necessary to achieve the peaceful protest, perhaps not.
Although We Women Warriors focuses on the lives of three native women activists from three different tribes in Colombia, it is larger than these individuals. Caught amidst the fighting among the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC; the rebels, or the guerilla group), the paramilitary groups, and government forces, the tribal peoples living in the mountains face almost continuous violence that has left about five million people displaced and a number of tribes near extinction. Each woman in the film has her own brand of activism—all of which exclude violence. Awá tribal member Doris Puchana bravely becomes an international spokesperson for her community, detailing their experiences during attacks, some of which were supported by funds from the US war on drugs. Another woman, Ludis Rodriguez, specifically takes on violence against women, uniting the female victims of paramilitary groups through a weaving collective. And the third protagonist, Flor Ilva Trochez, led her community as they attempted to protect themselves from the crossfire between the local police force and the government army. The film shows strong women, women’s groups, and the impact of violence on women and children. Women are portrayed as strong because of, not in spite of their being women, though the effect of violence on noncombatants, particularly women and children, is clearly conveyed.
Each woman struggles with her own demons, from proving herself as the first female tribal governor (Flor), living as a young widow after surviving as a political prisoner (Ludis), and bravely telling both her and her peoples’ story despite death threats. The film also highlights many of the barriers facing women, including an economic system that grossly undervalues women’s initiatives. While in many ways tribal women are politically and economically disenfranchised by the state, they may simultaneously wield great power within their tribes. However, it is unclear if these women have influence because so many of the men are dead, or if it is because they are fighting for their children, which would be a traditional woman’s role. Therefore, an exploration of Colombian tribal gender relations would be interesting to discuss in a class. Additionally, issues concerning grassroots movements, types of activism and power, masculinity and femininity, and sex roles can easily be raised. As with the first film, this film has the women telling their own stories, and what powerful stories they are.
1 Though Uma and Silu are the same person, Silu is the soldier who believes violence is necessary for change. Uma is the woman who was once a child in rural Nepal, becomes a soldier, and then transforms to a complex woman and parliamentarian with a more nuanced understanding of politics and change.