The movie by Khadija al-Salami is based on the book I am Nojood, Aged 10 and Divorced, written by Nujood Ali & Delphine Minoui.
This is a true story about a young girl in Yemen who is married off to a man 3 times her age by her parents, who then gets subsequently raped by her husband before coming off age and how she seeks the help of local lawyers to divorce him.
Child marriages are still prevalent in rural areas of the Middle East, India and other developing nations. Although illegal in these countries, its confines are within the ‘cultural jurisdiction’ lead by the ‘head of the village’. These ‘cultural jurisdictions’ deem child marriages acceptable and a must to 1) protect one’s daughter from potential rape and molestation giving her the ‘protection’ of a husband or 2) to ‘receive’ a dowry if the girl’s family has fallen on bad times or 3) to lessen the financial burden on a family sooner than later. The latter two depending on the country and its customs.
I watched ‘I am Nojoom… ‘at the Asian Film Festival Premier last week at the Regents Cinema in London with two of my friends and was privileged to participate in the Q and A with the director Khadija al-Salami after the screening.
Scenes from the movie made us emotional and others made us sick in the stomach. This does have a happy and encouraging ending. Nojoom meets a very helpful lawyer whose wife takes her in after some hesitation that her own daughter would be in the company of another girl who has ‘had sex’. Once she met Nojoom she melted sErving that she was just a child.
The interrogation that followed in court of the father and husband left one baffled at the level of ignorance in these villages where they could not see how they were committing a crime and how it was a father’s right to ‘protect’ his daughter by getting her married especially when he needed money. The husband didn’t understand why he was imprisoned for ‘legally’ having sex with his wife. In their minds they honestly could not see how they were harming her.
This is pure testament that in this day there is still so much education and awareness required in many parts of the world.
The happy ending is that Nojoom wins and gets divorced and progresses to get an education and be ‘free’.
During the Q & A Khadija explained how she fought in a bid for the rights to the script against a French director as no one could do better justice to this story than her as not only was she from Yemen but Khadija herself was an abused child bride who rebelled and broke free, got an education and was here today as a film director.
She was asked about any obstacles that she faced during the funding stage, casting and filming of the movie and she related some really fascinating experiences that would have made anyone quit the project but her determination was so strong that 4 years later she had a successfully completed project.
I just had to ask her about herself. We now know Nujood/Nojoom/Nojood’s story but I wanted to know hers. How did she break away from her marriage and how did she become who she is today.
She escaped from her family and community at age 11 and went to school while simultaneously working at a local tv studio. She received a scholarship at age 16 to complete high school in America. She then went to Mount Vernon College for Women in Washington D.C. And is the first Yemeni female movie director. She ended saying that ‘anything is possible’ with a huge smile on her face.
Now that’s one phenomenal woman carrying herself with such poise and grace that one would never have guessed her past. I couldn’t hold myself back from giving her a hug and wanting some of her amazing energy.