'Difret' Is the Story of Many Represented by the Story of One
Executive produced by Angelina Jolie Pitt, Difret is not one woman's story. Instead, it focuses on people cooperating across generations and classes to resist injustice against women.
Based on true events, Difret follows an Ethiopian girl's struggle to overcome subordination and mistreatment. As the film begins, Hirut (Tizita Hagere) is abducted from home and family by neighboring men who intend to make her the wife of one of them. Hirut escapes, but in the process, she shoots and kills her rapist.
If the drama here sounds broad, it's also searing and complicated. Difret, executive produced by Angelina Jolie Pitt and now in theaters, soon turns its attention to Hirut's legal dilemmas, as Meaza Ashenafi (Meron Getnet) of the Andinet Women Lawyers Association, takes her case. While the film doesn't display the rape graphically -- the camera is so close on the experience that the imagery is almost abstract -- but it makes clear the pain that follows in Hirut's isolation, fear, and multiple losses.
The nightmare shows on her weeping face in the police station after she is arrested. It shows in the Assistant DA's (Brook Sheferaw) indifference toward her. It's plain in the response of the all-male council, local men who reject her father's (Mekonen Laeake) effort to defend her against the allegations of the dead man’s family, that she was a shameful and disobedient "wife". Hirut was been kidnapped just after she received the exciting news that she was about to enter the fifth grade.
For all its focus on these traumas, Difret is as much Meaza's film as it is Hirut’s. A former judge and now a women's lawyer, Meaza seems an incorruptible force against the male authorities who consider women second-class citizens. Meaza's determination is revealed even before she meets Hirut when, during an early scene in the film, she hears out a wife seeking help against her physically abusive husband, then tracks the man to his workplace and threatens him with legal action, wielding her expertise as a weapon.
Meaza proves to be an effective mentor as well as legal representative. Ensuring Hirut is released from jail on bail, she brings her home and cooks for her, admitting that she doesn't want to be married and is herself a poor cook. "I think men are afraid to marry me," she adds, "since I don't always stay at home." Confident in her interactions, she repeatedly makes bold eye contact with men like the Assistant DA and the police chief, who resent her inspiration to other women and girls.
With her lawyer, Hirut has many new experiences, visits to court and to a girls' orphanage, pursuits of evidence in support of her case. Meaza helps her to see herself differently, not diminished because she's no longer a virgin, but instead, empowered precisely because she has fought back. "Hirut, you are a brave girl," the lawyer insists, "What you did was out of self-defense." As she's educated, Hirut serves as a voice for ravaged women, while Meaza appears as the answer, sure of herself and wise, a means to represent and so build community.
In laying out these roles, Difret can seem schematic. It helps that Meaza is not the only source of support for Hurit. Her mother (Meaza Tekle) and loving sister (Kiya Kennha), and Mrs. Elfinesh (Rahel Teshome) at the orphanage are models of compassion and resistance. Hirut's father also speaks out for his daughter, as does Meaza's own mentor, Mr. Hiruy (Getachew Debalke). This network provides a varied backdrop for the central plot.
These details expand Difret's reach. It's not just Meaza's, Hirut's or even a women's story. Instead, it's about cooperating across generations and classes to resist injustice against women. These many points of view indicate the complications of that resistance, delivering one moving story and raising awareness of the others it does not tell.