Canadian filmmaker and director, Terrence Turner, created an Oscar-nominated live action short film titled Dishonour that explores the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). The 38-minute-long film stars Mimi Ndiweni, who, incredibly, plays all six characters. We spoke with both Terrence and Mimi about the movie, and also interviewed anti-FGM advocate, FGM survivor and author Hibo Wardere, to learn more about FGM and the mission of bringing awareness to the fact that it is still practised throughout a number of countries to this day. —Vita Daily
Terrence, please tell us more about this important film and topic.
I first became aware of female genital mutilation or FGM about six or seven years ago. I was reading a well-thumbed magazine in the dentist’s office and came across a small article about FGM, a procedure that injures the genitalia of young girls for non-medical reasons. I was stunned to learn that it continues to be practised around the world today and not just in Africa, as many mistakenly believe. The United Nations estimates that there are 200 million women and girls alive today who are victims of FGM and three million continue to be at risk for FGM every year—that’s one girl every 11 seconds. When I first learned of these statistics I was horrified. How was it that I didn’t know anything about FGM despite being a reasonably well-educated university graduate? So I decided that, as a filmmaker, I needed to do something that would bring attention to this practice, particularly to those living in the “west” who know little or nothing about its prevalence. From that desire emerged Dishonour, a film that I wrote and produced with my twin brother, Timothy. I spent almost two years researching the subject prior to actually writing the script for Dishonour. I read everything I could get my hands on about FGM, and watched a number of documentaries about the practice. I wanted to be very careful that I was accurately communicating why FGM continued to be practiced, particularly in the “west”. Also, as a privileged, white, male filmmaker, I wanted to ensure that what I wrote and produced was representative of real women’s experiences from around the world. It was also fortuitous that much of the dialogue in the film was inspired by actual women who have been subjected to FGM.
Can you tell us more about FGM in its current state?
FGM is clearly among the worst human rights violations perpetrated against girls and women today. It is also a form of child abuse and like all abuse, it thrives in secrecy. My hope is that our film not only educates people who aren’t aware of FGM about the practice but also motivates them to get involved in efforts to bring it to an end. To that end, Dishonour is a fictional drama that tells the story of a young family who recently moved from an unnamed country where FGM is routinely practised to a country in the “west” where it is not. The film examines the very real struggles new immigrants have when trying to reconcile historic traditions like FGM with the customs and laws of their newly adopted homes. There are varying reasons why FGM is practised, but the principle purpose is to limit a girl’s libido and prevent her from having or enjoying sex. The idea is that if girls are “cut” in this way, they will remain pure and virginal thus ensuring their marriageability. The film points out that regardless of the victims’ ages, they all suffer devastating physical, emotional and psychological consequences from FGM which can last a lifetime.
And a little more about the film itself?
The title Dishonour was chosen to bring attention to the notion of “honour” and its relationship to FGM. Even today, many believe that a family’s honour is dependent on the chastity of its girls and women. I belief is that FGM is overwhelmingly harmful to the girls and it’s truly a “dishonour” to continue subjecting them to such a practice—thus the title of the film. Dishonour hopefully captures the powerlessness felt by many young girls today who are faced with this life-altering procedure. It’s also call to action. We must help these young women and girls who cannot help themselves. The film is still making the rounds of film festivals. It is not yet available to download. However, anyone interested in viewing Dishonour may contact the director on the film’s web site for details on how they may arrange for a screening.
Mimi, how and why did you become involved with this film—and how did you manage to play six roles?
What attracted me to Dishonour was the subject matter of female genital mutilation. I felt that stories such as Dishonour just have to be told because people need to be aware that FGM is still being practised around the world and that it is a big problem. It was a rare opportunity to perform all the roles in a film. It was hard for me to resist the challenge in Dishonour to play a variety of characters in terms of gender, voice and age range. I relished the opportunity to inhabit each and every character. What I love about Dishonour, is that it’s a drama and not a documentary, so audiences are less likely to run away from the story when it gets uncomfortable. The viewer builds a relationship with the characters before they’re hit with what’s happening. It’s an exciting way to tell a story about a difficult subject matter.
Hibo, please tell us more about yourself.
I was born in Somalia and moved to the U.K. when I was 18 years old. I was, like almost every girl in Somalia, mutilated when I was six years old. I have what is known as type 3 FGM called infibulation. That entails the total removal of the clitoris and labia followed by the remaining tissue being sewn up completely, leaving only a small hole through which one urinates and menstruates. Shortly after I moved to the U.K. I got help for my situation and was unstitched allowing me to have more normal bodily functions. However, the psychological and emotional issues took decades to resolve, even partially. Today, I am a mother of seven children and now that my children are out of the home, I have dedicated my life to educating people about FGM. It’s not just a job. It’s my life.
What is your mission today?
While I am regularly interviewed in the media about FGM in the U.K. and abroad, my main role is in educating people about FGM. My activities include speaking to children in schools, lecturing in universities, lobbying for better services for survivors of FGM, working on legislation to discourage the practice of FGM, working with social workers and police departments to help them deal with situations where children are at risk of FGM and providing training for the judiciary on the complex issues surrounding FGM.
What are some of the silver linings of your work?
I find it particularly satisfying to educate boys and young men about FGM because they play an important role in bringing it to an end. They are always shocked to the core when they learn about FGM since few, if any of them have ever been told anything about the practice by their parents or their schools. They are often very angry when they learn about FGM and are determined that when they eventually have children, they will never allow FGM to be performed on them. Boys and ultimately men need to play a bigger role in the elimination of FGM and not leave it to the women in families who traditionally carry out the practice. Men must be forceful in their determination that they do not want their prospective wives to have been “cut”. They realize that FGM is not beneficial to their future wives and is actually quite harmful physically, emotionally and psychologically. It is also a practice that can only harm intimate relationships with their partners.
What are your thoughts on the film Dishonour?
I have seen many films about FGM but none of them, until Dishonour, touched on the core problem of FGM. Dishonour illustrates the real dynamics of a family dealing with FGM. People in the “west” often ask why families continue to perform FGM. Why would a mother who has had FGM go on to have her own daughter “cut” when she knows how terrible the results can be? Dishonour shows that we are often dealing with extended families where there are aunties and grandmothers with traditional beliefs who are very powerful figures in the hierarchy of the family. As a result, there can be tremendous pressure on mothers to conform and have FGM performed on their daughters even if they personally don’t wish to do so. It’s easy for us in the “west” to be judgmental, but it’s not a simple issue to resolve. It takes education, patience and persistence to prevent the continuation of the practice. It is a goal that I am dedicated to achieving. FGM is a vicious, violent and unnecessary act that continues to be performed on young girls and women around the world and it has to end.