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Mobbed by iPhone cameras and pushy reporters, 23-year-old Nadia Murad leads a harrowing but vital crusade: to speak out on behalf of the embattled Yazidi community who face mass extermination by ISIS militants. Nadia is forced to revisit these realities again and again, for without her testimony the genocide happening right in front of the world’s eyes might go completely unnoticed.
"An Essential Portrait of the Strength Required to Speak Up"
"The opening scene echoes throughout “On Her Shoulders.” In it, Nadia Murad is nearly besieged by a mob of admirers, scores of whom have their cellphone cameras held high to capture her image. Again and again they take her photo. Again and again she presses on to speak for her cause.
Murad survived a 2014 massacre of thousands of Yazidis, a religious minority, by Islamic State forces in Northern Iraq. Her village was destroyed, members of her family were murdered and she was held captive as a sex slave. She escaped and now travels to bring attention to the killings and to help refugees.
All through this determined documentary we watch her relay her experiences to TV and radio shows, to the United Nations, to politicians. Her interviewers apologize that they’re asking questions that so many others have already asked, yet they ask them just the same, and Murad answers, reliving the terror each time she tells and retells her story. Her dedication and weariness are manifest.
Alexandria Bombach’s direction and editing are exceptional; she captures images that are both subtle and formidable. Her film is, first and foremost, a profile of Murad and her mission. Yet it’s also a comment on the media and on government aid. Everyone here appears eager to help Murad. But getting the word out takes immense effort, and the wheels of justice seem to turn so slowly.
Still, hope flickers in the film, and beyond it. After “On Her Shoulders” was completed, Murad was named as one of two winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. It’s a well-deserved honor, for courage that’s well documented here."
"Bombach’s respectful distance from her subject allows the audience to see in a way that one does watching a Robert Bresson film; in the slowly unfolding narrative, stripped of drama but not of emotion, Nadia’s spirit emerges. The filmmaker’s stance also results in profound and intimate testimony direct-to-camera. “Others always comment on my access, but actually it was just Nadia,” she said. “People speak about her strength and resilience, but two qualities of Nadia’s blew me away—her graciousness and her patience. She was never cross with anyone.” At one point, Nadia explains how she feels when asked to disclose the smallest details of her sexual slavery. She wishes that instead of such questions, journalists would ask her about the women and girls still being traded and raped."