Review: A Girl from Mogadishu

Aja Naomi King in A Girl from Mogadishu. Still by Seamus Murphy.

A Girl from Mogadishu is a biopic based on the extraordinary life and work of Ifrah Ahmed, an Irish-Somali activist dedicated to ending the practice of female genital mutilation.

A Girl from Mogadishu tells Ifrah Ahmed’s own story of her life. Frequent voiceovers are used to condense parts of the story. Flashbacks are used to recall past events. Aja Naomi King plays Ifrah.

The story begins in Somalia, where a 17 year old Ifrah managed to escape the war on her own. She had no money, no ID, and no passport. Her aunt in Minnesota sent money and it was given to a trafficker. Hassan (Barkhad Abdi) got her through airports and customs successfully. She thought he was taking her to Minnesota. He took her to Ireland.

Aja Naomi King in A Girl from Modgadishu
Aja Naomi King as Ifrah Ahmed in A Girl from Mogadishu (c) Pembridge Pictures. Still by Seamus Murphy.

Through the terrifying process of being accepted into Ireland as an immigrant seeking asylum, it was discovered that Ifrah had been cut. I don’t quite understand why the Irish doctors were so surprised by this, because 98% of Somali girls are subjected to female genital mutilation, and there were a number of Somali immigrants there already.

Because of the shocked reactions of the doctors, and the many questions they asked her about her “injury,” Ifrah began studying the topic of female genital mutilation (FGM). As she learned to speak English, read, write, and became an educated woman, she also became an activist against FGM.

Ifrah befriended another Somali girl living in Ireland, Amala (Martha Canga Antonio). Amala was a blessing to her. Amala helped her assimilate. She helped Ifrah become an Irish citizen.

Ifrah’s progress from illiterate immigrant to one of the most effective and passionate activists against FGM on the planet is told in sketchy detail. There are impressionistic moments of education, protests, speeches, and meetings. Horrific moments from Ifrah’s childhood and past are told in flashbacks.

After Ifrah was known around the world for her work to stop FGM, she went back to Somalia to see her family. She talked to her grandmother (Maryam Mursal) about why FGM is done to girls. Her grandmother explained it was for the benefit of men.

The story is one of both hope and empowerment. Ifrah’s story is one that all women should know. All men, too.

A Girl from Mogadishu was written and directed by Mary McGuckian. She obtained the material for the film by putting the real Ifrah in front of a camera and letting her tell her life story for 2 straight days. That became the basis of the film.

Casting Aja Naomi King as Ifrah was a perfect choice. As you can see from the photos of Ifrah, the two bear a strong resemblance. The two share a similar beautiful smile, which adds to how much they look alike. King does a wonderful job conveying the fear and confusion Ifrah went through on her journey away from Somalia to her arrival in Ireland, where she didn’t even understand how to eat the food.

It takes courage to stand before your entire history and culture and say, “you are wrong,” but Ifrah Ahmed has done it and is doing it. She’s a woman the entire world can look up to. She’s been harassed and criticized by many because of her public position. Her family, her aunt in Minnesota, have all asked her to stop talking about this. Ifrah is active on social media and receives many hateful comments because of her work to stop FGM.

The film is making the rounds of festivals this fall. You may be able to catch it at one of them. Your first opportunity to do that will be at the Mill Valley Film Festival on October 8 and 9, 2019.

The film will be released in the UK/IRE around February 6th, 2020 (International United Nations Zero Tolerance FGM day). I hope other locations/streamers will have it available at that same time. This is an empowering film that everyone should see.

If I learn anything about a US release, I’ll mention it on Twitter. In the meantime, you can follow Ifrah Foundation on Twitter and the movie’s Twitter account for news.

Poster for A Girl from Mogadishu
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