14 November 2015

Warriors film London premiere

A blog by Noa Marson.

The film Warriors, directed by Barney Douglas, is a powerful, thought-provoking, and truly inspiring documentary. Whilst watching it you are taken on an emotional journey, through the beautiful landscapes of Kenya, the traditional outfit of the Maasai and the passion of cricket. The film shows how the young Maasai are using their love for cricket with the hope of changing certain strongly held beliefs, whilst maintaining their culture.

Following the screening at Picturehouse Central, London, on the 13th November, was a Q&A led by Greg James, BBC Radio 1 host. On the panel was Barney Douglas the director, Leyla Hussein, activist, Sonyanga, the team captain (of the Maasai’s cricket team) and James Anderson, international cricketer. Several times throughout, the sense of the importance of reaching a new audience with this film was apparent. The film combines sport and stunning scenery with FGM. It therefore attracts a wide audience, and also, importantly, brings men into the discussion. In reference to men, Leyla said “their silence isn't useful” - FGM should be discussed in the form of a violation of human rights, rather than a woman’s issue, and should definitely aim to have all men on board.

Warriors, according to Sonyanga, shows the “real story”. He makes it clear that in his community, with the help of cricket, women are beginning to realise their rights, despite culture (much of it male-dominated) being deep-rooted in the Maasai way of life. Sonyanga says that the film demonstrates what they [the members of the Maasai cricket team] are trying to do: alter oppressive practices and beliefs that are engrained in the community, whilst preserving the good parts of the culture. He refers to the idea that “the eye that has travelled sees further” and by travelling abroad to places such as England (to partake in the Last Man Stands World Championship), the Warriors are able to bring back knowledge (such as gender equality) and implement it into their culture. They hope to spread this knowledge beyond their village and to also stop malicious acts in neighbouring communities.

Near the end of the documentary, the elders agree to stop forcing their girls to undergo FGM, if the young Maasai will marry uncircumcised girls. The elders say that ultimately, the young Maasai are the people who will be getting married, and therefore their opinions should not only be listened to, but acted upon. This very important, and heartwarming agreement, shows the power that sport can play in connecting and inspiring young people to make change, and to strongly influence their community. This film demonstrates people uniting with a common goal and passion, and like the Maasai cricket team, making huge progress.

However, the process of persuading the elders took a very long time. Sonyanga says it was a process that involved subtle hints to the elders that FGM is wrong - after all, it’s not easy to uproot such strongly held beliefs - and slowly developed into proper discussion. Sonyanga has five sisters, four of them older than him, who all underwent FGM and then were ‘married off’ at young ages. This was the beginning of his awareness about FGM and Sonyanga said that he came to the realisation that “we need sisters”. Brothers and sisters should grow up together, go to school and enjoy safe childhoods. When his youngest sister was due to be undergo FGM and to be married, Sonyanga wanted to “empower” his sister, and led discussions with their parents. They fortunately agreed that she would not be forced into FGM, and now she is continuing her education and also acts as an ambassador for young girls in the same position that she was in.

Kenya is leading the global fight against FGM. There, NGOs and communities are very open to discussion. Leyla highlighted that Warriors should therefore be recognised as a film with a global message, and that although much discussion of FGM refers to cultures based in rural Africa, FGM occurs pretty much everywhere. There are 137,000 women and girls living with effects of FGM in the UK - however those are only the reported cases. So then what can we do in the UK to help? According to Leyla, violence against girls should be part of the curriculum, taught in all schools. Just as it is necessary to educate communities in Africa and the Middle-East in order to end FGM, we must also do the same here.

James Anderson underplays his role as Executive Producer but his involvement was clearly crucial in getting the necessary support to complete the film. Whilst being shy about how he had helped, he couldn’t hide his genuine respect for the Warriors and their amazing story. He also spoke movingly of how he played cricket because, like the Warriors, he loved the game and he loved it whether playing at Lords, a local park or any patch of spare land. James also said he would like to take some of his England colleagues to play the Warriors on their home pitch and I hope he can one day make this happen.

As previously mentioned, it is so important that this film is used to reach a new audience, and not only raise awareness of FGM, but encourage people to take action. The #WakeTheLion campaign, has the aim of encouraging people to talk about how sport has changed their life for the better. Not only can sport promote confidence of oneself, but through the strong relationships and unity that is developed as a result, people can change communities, making them more fair and safe for their members. In reference to the battle against the practice of FGM, Barney rightly said “it’s not just about FGM, it’s about equality”.

45% of the profit from Warriors will be given to a trust in the Maasai community. It will be used to create an education centre for young people. It will educate them on their health, their rights and of course, cricket.

The Warriors are showing how young people can influence others and shape their own future. Their courage is inspiring and their joyous passion for cricket is very infectious. I am so proud that 28 Too Many is supporting the Warriors and working with them on anti-FGM projects in Kenya. Hopefully next time we see Sonyanga it will be to visit him in his beautiful home country and to meet girls like his youngest sister, who are not cut and are completing their education.

By Noa Marson, English Youth Ambassador for 28 Too Many. Currently studying for her GCSEs at a school in North London. Passionate about rights for all humans, and ultimately equality for all

If you want to take action, you can learn more about 28 Too Many's work to end FGM and how you can help at www.28toomany.org. You can donate to support our research and campaigns and follow us on Facebook for updates on the global movement to end FGM.