'Girl Rising' Movie Review: Selena Gomez and Meryl Streep Join Fight For Female Education

On February 25, the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., held a preview screening of the new documentary film, Girl Rising, produced by the 10X10 Campaign. While they showed only 30 minutes of what is a full-length movie, it was more than enough to thoroughly whet one’s appetite, and spark a discussion between the four panelists present and those in the audience. 

Girl Rising, which features Disney icon Selena Gomez and Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep, among others, follows the lives of nine girls in nine different countries, and each girl dreams of attending school. The film informs us that they are 9 of the 66 million girls worldwide who share this dream. The 30-minute glimpse showed how 3 of these girls were successful in changing their circumstances — through their own determination and strength as well as with the support of a community or family member. Poignant and touching, the scenes of the young girls reenacting their stories gave a slight tug at the heart strings, while simultaneously staying away from being overly sentimental, or clichéd.


Each girl is paired with a writer from her own country in the telling of her story, which lends a deeper understanding, nuance, and authenticity to those stories. In Cambodia, Sohka’s sister-storyteller is writer Luong Ung, who herself was an orphan of the Khmer Rouge, and has written captivating memoirs reflecting her country’s troubled past.  

The panel discussion that followed the screening was really more of a way to encourage audience members to spread the word about the film, as opposed to an idea-swap, which is arguably more useful than what is often a “preaching to the choir” phenomenon at such events. This particular “choir,” though predominantly female, did have a number men in attendance, reflecting the acknowledgment that engaging men in these kinds of discussions, and subsequent movements, is imperative.

It also must be acknowledged that this was yet another room full of Western— or at least Western working and educated individuals - people discussing the “foreign” issue of girl’s education and development. An audience member asked the panelists how they might better incorporate the problems in education that exist right here in the U.S. Holly Gordon, executive director and producer of the 10X10 Campaign, responded that CNN Films had expressed an interest in adding domestic stories to their roll out of this film, and the issues it champions. This was an important question to ask, and one we need to keep in mind when we engage on these topics — remembering of course that these are global issues, and not necessarily limited to the “developing” world.   

Girl Rising will officially hit theaters March 7, and all proceeds will go towards advancing girls' education internationally. There are ultimately few challenges more deserving of our attention, or which would reap more benefits worldwide, than the universal education of girls. 

For more information on how you can organize a screening in your community see www.girlrising.com   

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Joya Taft-Dick

Joya is originally from Vermont, but grew up moving around overseas as the daughter of UN World Food Program employee. She has spent the last 9 years working on, writing about, or studying human security, development and violence prevention, all with a focus on gender. Joya received her bachelors’ degree from Middlebury College, where she double-majored in Religion and French, and holds a MA from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, with a research focus on gender-based violence in conflict settings.

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