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By Jessica Duncanson

These ten documentaries deal with issues surrounding various fundamental human rights. From gender equality to authority over one’s own body, these films show the fight to uphold a wide range of rights. A kind of activism in their own right, these works are inspiring reminders that human rights abuses of all kinds need to be challenged.

1. He Named Me Malala (2015, dir. Davis Guggenheim)

19 year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai campaigns for women’s right to education. Despite being shot by the Taliban in 2012, she continued with her activism and was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. This documentary studies her work, but also gains insight into her private family life. The film shows that Malala is not only an incredibly inspiring young woman, but also one that is charming and likeable.

2. The Guantanamo Trap (2011, dir. Thomas Wallner)

This documentary studies the legal processes surrounding brutal interrogation methods at Guantanamo Bay. Lawyers with various agendas and one previous inmate give their accounts of what took place and what the consequences should be. The film looks at how the US legally justifies what appear to be grave human rights abuses.

3. The Supreme Price (2014, dir. Joanna Lipper)

Using the story of Hafsat Abiola, this film documents the fight for democracy and women’s equal right to be in government in Nigeria. Hafsat’s father, Moshood Abiola, appeared to have been victorious at the 1993 elections but was arrested for treason when he tried to declare himself president. A military coup brought Sani Abacha to power and Moshood died suspiciously on the day that he was due to be released from prison. What’s more, Hafsat’s mother had been the leader of the pro-democracy movement but was murdered. The film studies these injustices.

4. Night and Fog (1956, dir. Alain Resnais)

Shot in abandoned concentration camps and cut with historical footage of camp life, this short documentary studies one of the greatest mass human rights violations of all time; the Holocaust. The film’s narration was written by Jean Cayrol, a survivor of the Gusen concentration camp, and provides a blunt and unflinching account of the gruesome events. This documentary reminds us of the monstrous consequences of rejecting the fundamental human right of religious freedom.

5. Vessel (2014, dir. Diana Whitten)

This documentary follows the pro-choice organisation Women on Waves as they sail into international waters in a bid to help women seeking abortions. Headed by Dutch physician Rebecca Gomperts, the group travels to desperate women in countries that have banned abortion or made it incredibly difficult to obtain one. This film promotes a women’s right to decide what happens to her own body.

6. More Than A Month (2012, dir. Shukree Tilghman)

Filmmaker Shukree Tilghman argues that Black History Month in the US should be eradicated as it symbolises racial exclusion. Through encounters on the streets and interviews with people for and against his cause, he discusses Black History Month in order to explore the role of racism in modern US society.

7. We Are Fire (2014, dir. Orlando von Einsiedel)

This short documentary depicts the activism of the North Indian all-female ‘Gulabi Gang’. Also known as the ‘Pink Gang’ because of their bright pink saris, they reject intimidation from men and fight, sometimes physically, for women’s rights. At only 8 minutes long, the film is nonetheless a powerful advocate for sisterhood, strength and empowerment.

8. Generation Revolution (2016, dir. Usayd Younis and Cassie Quarless)

Following activist groups Black Revolutionaries, R Movement and The Black Dissidents, this documentary looks at inequalities in race, class and gender in UK society. The young activists in the film discuss these social issues but also share their varying views about how best to carry out political activism. The film joins in the fight for equal treatment in relation to race, class and gender, while considering the most productive way to demand these rights.

9. Global Gay (2014, dir. Rémi Lainé)

Global Gay portrays the battle for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Russia, Cuba, Cameroon, Nepal and South Africa. The documentary portrays those leading the fight against criminalization, such as activists, lawyers and UN members, but also tells the stories of LGBT people that have been convicted of homosexual ‘crimes’.

10. 5 Broken Cameras (2011, dir. Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi)

Emad Burnat filmed his life in the Palestinian village of Bil’in following the protests that were instigated there when construction began on an Israeli West Bank barrier. The barrier threatened the agricultural land of the village and was seen as a symbol of oppression. The documentary’s title refers to the various cameras that were broken over the five years of filming.


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