"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.