Friday, September 4, 2015

An Un-Hollywood Movie We All Should See

Mrs. Goundo is a Philly mother, native of Mali, seeking asylum in the United States to prevent her baby girl from being sexually mutilated.

An Un-Hollywood Movie We All Should See


"No one wants to see their newborn baby faced with a blade," says a Malian woman to her female Philadelphia friends in a scene from Mrs. Goundo's Daughter, an extraordinary documentary about one local mother's mission to protect her child from a horrific cultural practice known as female circumcision - the ritual mutilation of a girl's external sexual genitalia.

But face the blade they do, in Mali and other African countries, where a woman's sovereignty over her body is routinely trumped by traditions aimed at re-enforcing the dominance of men over women.

What better way to do so than by using a knife to destroy a woman's ability to experience sexual pleasure?

What's heartbreaking about Mrs. Goundo's Daughter is to see the happy complicity of the village females as their trusting, beautiful and unsuspecting little girls are ceremonially led to mutilation as a regal matriarch sings, "A noble daughter is walking. Make way for her."

Produced by local filmmakers Janet Goldwater and Barbara Attie, the film - a selection from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival -  is being screened tonight at International House (which has had to reschedule other Festival films this week, because of the snow).

I know - the subject matter of this film is brutal  (maybe too brutal to entice anyone into venturing into the cold night to see a movie that's so un-Hollywood, to say the least). But more brutal is the reality that about 150 million women worldwide have undergone genital mutilation, including Mrs. Goundo herself, who came to Philadelphia at age 16 and now, as the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, faces deportation to Mali.

She and her husband are seeking asylum here to protect their U.S.-born toddler, who will surely be mutilated once they are back in Mali, where 85 percent of women have had some or all of their genitals removed. Mrs. Goundo's Daughter follows the Goundos' struggle to persuade an immigration judge to let the family stay in Philadelphia.

The film is the latest in the growing, impressive catalogue of films created by Pew Fellowship recipients Goldwater and Attie, whose riveting documentaries  - including Rosita, the story of a Mexican couple's fight to obtain an abortion for their 9-year-old daughter, who'd been raped - dissect in poignant detail issues of gender inequality and reproductive choice (or lack thereof). 

I'm a big fan of their intelligent, passionate and compassionate work, and I think you'll be, too, if you join me in the International House audience tonight. Goldwater and Attie will discuss the film after its screening.

The night kicks off at 7pm. For more info, click here.

Daily News Columnist
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About this blog

When my phone rings here at the Daily News, nine times out of ten the caller begins the conversation with, “Yeah, so what happened was…”.

Because this is Philly, the caller doesn’t say, “My name is Bob” – or Mary – “and I wonder if I could have a moment of your time?” Philadelphians are too direct for that. They just say, “Yeah, so what happened was…”, and then tumble into a tale they think oughta be shared with a wider audience. I love getting these calls (even the ones where it becomes clear, after 30 seconds, where the caller sowed the seeds of his own misery), because they give me chance to connect with fellow citizens in a way that no other job allows. Well, okay, no other job for which I’m remotely qualified.

That’s why my blog is titled “So What Happened Was…”. To me, it’s the quintessentially Philly way of saying, “Once upon a time.” When I hear it, I know a good story is coming. And I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Ronnie Polaneczky has been an award-winning columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News since 1999, offering a front-steps perspective on every aspect of city life, from the sublime to the stupid. In her past life, she was the editor-in-chief of Atlantic City Magazine, associate editor at Philadelphia Magazine and a fulltime freelancer published in Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Men's Health, MarieClaire and others. She lives with her husband, daughter and various pets in the city's Fairmount section, where she dreams of one day singing The National Anthem at an Eagles game. In addition to her column and blog, you can enjoy Ronnie's musings in podcast form here.

Read more from Ronnie Polaneczky at Earth to Philly, the Daily News blog on anything and everything "Green Reach Ronnie at

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