In Amharic, the word Difret means courage. This film about a 14 year old Ethiopian girl and the young female lawyer who represents her tells a true story of courage and the right to be free.
Fourteen year old Hirut (Tizita Hagere) lived in a traditional village. A man would ask a girl’s father for permission to marry. If the father said yes, the man would abduct the girl by force, rape her, and then marry her. Hirut’s father was asked this question but said, “No.”
The village man and his pals chased Hirut down on horseback, abducted her, and she was beaten and raped anyway. When the man went outside, leaving his rifle behind, Hirut took the rifle and ran. The men chased her and she killed her would-be husband.
Instead of killing her immediately, as the men of the village wanted to do, she was taken to the police station. That saved her life, although it was a struggle to retrieve her from the clutches of the police. They decided she was 18 and old enough to hang.
In Addis Ababa, Meaza Ashenafi (Meron Getnet), a lawyer in an organization that gave free legal aid to women and girls heard about Hirut’s case. She set off immediately to represent Hirut and get her out of the jail.
The lawyer Meaza was unintimidated by any man in authority. And all men were in authority over women. She faced up to police officers, district attorneys, village elders, and finally the top court in the country.
Hirut was eventually freed and the legal precedent that a woman had a right to defend herself was set in Ethiopia. The common law that traditional abduction into marriage was unacceptable was enforced. It was a ground breaking case for the rights of women.
I found Difret compelling for its feminist content. So many women joined together in Maeza’s organization and around the country in solidarity with Hirut. It was a huge victory when she was freed.
The performances from Meron Getnet as the lawyer and Tizita Hagere as the girl were nuanced and strong. The two were wonderful together, especially as the trust grew in Hirut toward this strange unknown woman who was determined to help her. Seeing into both village life and life in a middle class home in Addis Ababa was enlightening.
Zeresenay Mehari wrote and directed the film. Angelina Jolie was the producer.
The 2014 film is currently available on Netflix, YouTube, iTunes and other places.