‘Girl Rising’ gives rise to a particular narrative on education

By Shannon McClain, Columnist

Girl Rising is a global movement for girls’ education that is based on the 2013 documentary of the same name, and both the movement and its inspiration are quickly gaining popularity across the country. Though the documentary advocates for a noble cause, it is important for viewers to be cognizant of the producers’ intentions. Pacific Lutheran University hosted a screening of “Girl Rising” April 16.

By Oscar nominated director Richard E. Robbins, the documentary follows the stories of nine girls from the developing world. It shows their relationship with education and the difficulties girls face in the pursuit of learning.  According to the documentary, 66 million girls around the world are not in school. Additionally, many others struggle to stay in school.

In the developing world, most expect women to not attend school. Instead, they are expected to fetch water, take care of younger children or get jobs. For the documentary, each girl is paired with a writer from her country. The writer and the girl spend time together so the writer can hear the girl’s story and then recreate it for us.

The film makes no guarantee of authenticity and states upfront the writers may have modified or embellished the story. Despite the connotation that documentaries are always completely true and factual, most usually have a specific aim. They communicate a particular idea or view to the audience with the hope they will take some kind of action as a result.

“The film is marketed to the general public to generate funds and gain attention for the cause,” sophomore Jillian Stanphill said. “It isn’t a bad thing, but it is something we should be aware of while we are watching films like these.”

In this documentary, education for children, but especially for girls, is depicted as the solution for many world problems like poverty, gender-based violence and sex trafficking. When girls are educated, poverty cycles are broken. The film argues educated girls stand up for their rights. They marry and have children later and are more likely to educate their own children. As a result, communities and families thrive.

To obtain this, the documentary states we must remove the barriers girls face. To get girls in school, we must remove obstacles like early marriage, gender-based violence, domestic violence, slavery and sex trafficking. The producers of the film are marketing the idea that not only will education for girls improve the lives of girls all over the world, but it will make a safer, healthier and more prosperous world for all.

While there is truth to this, the documentary makers do have underlying reasons for painting the education narrative in this way — they are trying to motivate their viewers to contribute time or money to their cause. The stories of the girls are told by authors, and we have no way of knowing which parts of their stories are true and which are modified. There is an overwhelming sense of hope and positivity at the end of the film. Each girl’s story is tied up nicely and everything works out in the end in a kind of happily ever after.

This was done strategically. The producers are trying to communicate education as the solution, so the educated girls’ problems must all be solved and their lives must be better by the end.   Not only is the documentary positive overall, the producers also gave it a sense of familiarity. We feel a connection to the girls in the documentary, at least partially, because of the people that give voice to their stories.

When the documentary began, I instantly felt the narrator’s voice was familiar. It drew me in and made me feel at ease. It wasn’t until the end of the documentary that I realized the voice in the beginning belongs to Alicia Keyes. The narrators of the documentary are actresses like Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, Selena Gomez, Salma Hayek and Meryl Streep. These are voices that we would likely recognize, and it gives the film this feeling of familiarity, so we connect with the girls.

The producers of “Girl Rising” made choices about the stories and the narration in order to provoke certain feelings in the viewer so they can accomplish their aim. Next time you are watching a documentary, or anything calling you to action, be aware of the effect the film is having on you and think about why this might be. 🅼

Leave a Reply