Let me start off by sharing some statistics with you. In the US, one in five women will be raped or will experience attempted rape… and only 12 percent of the cases will get reported. In South Africa, which is (apparently) the rape capital of the world, a woman is more likely to get raped than educated. Closer to home, in Hong Kong last year (2013), one in seven women experienced sexual violence. Sobering stuff.
The documentary BRAVE MISS WORLD (directed by Cecilia Peck) follows former Israeli beauty queen Linor Abargil on her global quest to give a voice to women who have experienced sexual violence. Linor, herself, was raped just six weeks before being crowned Miss World in 1988. Fortunately, her rapist was caught and sentenced to 16 years in prison. (He is scheduled to be released later this year.)
In 1998, Linor started a website where these women could share their experiences and feelings. Within weeks, the site was swamped with testimonies from all over the world. In some of the cases, the rapes were not even reported due to family, school or police pressure, or because the women themselves thought it was their fault. In almost every case though, the women were still suffering inside, with many of them taking on self-destructive behaviours. Very quickly Linor went from being a blogger to a becoming vocal advocate, counseling women to report their rapes, and empowering them to discuss their feelings with their family and friends. As she says to many of these women, the worst has already happened.
Unfortunately for Linor though, hearing all these survivors’ stories took its toll on her. Linor’s own wounds, which she thought had healed, began to open up. Her solution was to become more religiously observant. Day by day, Linor changed her eating habits, her clothing and her relationships. Needless to say, these changes weren’t easy for her family, friends and her boyfriend, but they all accepted them as part of Linor’s healing process. She also went back to school to get her law degree so that she could fight to strengthen the legislation against perpetrators of sexual violence in Israel while improving the rights of the victims of these crimes.
As far as filmmaking goes, BRAVE MISS WORLD is straightforward and competent. Archival footage is seamlessly mixed with both recreated and current milestones in Linor’s journey resulting in a truly inspiring story about a very courageous woman. The director has said that the film took five years to make because her funding kept running dry. It’s probably just as well, as we are able to watch Linor change as her mission grows and develops.
I don’t mind letting on that this story has a happy ending, not just for Linor but for many of the women she touched along the way. However, so much work still needs to be done before her job is over.
BRAVE MISS WORLD will be screened on October 5 and again on October 8 as part of the Amnesty International Hong Kong Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, taking place at the Broadway Cinematheque. On October 8, there will be a post-screening discussion (in Cantonese) with representatives from RainLily, Hong Kong’s first one-stop crisis center for the protection of victims of sexual violence. For more information, please visit their website at www.rainlily.org.hk.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 37:15.)