The other night I watched a documentary that will be in the Hot Docs documentary film festival in Toronto, April 17-27 (2008). It is called Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai.
I had never heard of Wangari Maathai before seeing this documentary. What an amazing woman! She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, and she is so deserving, such an incredible Elderwoman.
She founded an organization called The Greenbelt Movement in Kenya, there is a website dedicated to her, and an entry for her in Wikipedia. The film was made by Lisa Merton and Alan Dater of Marlboro Productions.
I can't praise this film enough, it is beautiful and inspirational and it brings to light a woman who truly qualifies as Great. It also brings to light a history of Kenya that is a pointed indictment of colonialism and its lasting effects on the land and people subjugated by it. Lest we forget.
Wangari Maathai started an environmental movement among women of Kenya to plant trees. It was to address some of the environmental degradation due to both colonial and postcolonial destruction of forests, and also to provide firewood and building materials for the communities of the women. This movement blossomed into a protest movement against the imprisonment of political activists and against the destruction of national forests for private profit.
There is one episode in the story where police attack a peaceful demonstration by mothers of jailed activists. Wangari is brutally attacked. Immediately the women around her disrobe, exposing their breasts. This was to shame the men attacking them. They said that for a man to attack a mother is one of the most shameful things he can do, and for a mother to expose her breasts to him is the sharpest rebuke a woman can make. And it worked, the policemen were indeed thrown into disarray by the act, and Wangari was quickly transported to hospital for care. It also made international headlines, shaming the Kenyan government of the time.
Wangari Maathai is articulate and passionate, she inspired the women and men around her to take action, and she clearly linked environmental and social justice issues. This film is a wonderful tribute to her.
If you get a chance, go see it.
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