Difret (Freedom through Colonization?)

The movie Difret is about a young girl, Hirut, who is battling between her cultural traditions and country’s advancement in equal rights. This film is based on a true story and ironically, Angelina Jolie is the executive producer of this film. In this film, you will constantly see the clash between tradition and advancement from men and women who live in Ethiopia.


In one scene, Hirut’s parents are unable to read and write. They barely know their children’s age. However, the two female lawyers who are trying to save Hirut from the death penalty are constantly running into their cultural webs. In their culture, it is rude to not have lunch with the guest house that you visit. This scene is important because it shows the power of circles and the cultural cocoon that Hirut’s family lives in. Although her family knows Hirut is in trouble, they still insist that the lawyers stay for lunch instead of allowing them to immediately return to the jail and help their injured 14- year old daughter. It seems as if the family has already accepted their daughter’s fate because of their cultural beliefs.

In their cultural, men kidnap women. This act of kidnap is how the men find their wives. Once the woman or girl is kidnaped, she never sees her family again. That is exactly what happened to Hirut. She was kidnap and raped by her soon to be husband. However, the difference in Hirut’s story is that she kills the man who she is supposed to marry. When a man is killed by a woman, the woman is automatically sentenced to death. However, with the advancements that the Ethiopian government, Hirut is given a fighting chance in court.

Hirut is exposed to various cultural changes then what she is used to. For example, female lawyers, female nurses, and a house with furniture. All of these things are forms of colonial rule. For this movie, I think the colonial ideology helped this young girl. The cultural tradition was only important when it helped men advance. Men kidnaped women so they could have wives. They tried to dominate the medical and law enforcement fields as well. But because Ethiopia slowly began allowing women to fight for equal rights, the traditions were slowly dismantled.

Another important scene is when the elders of the village gather and have a meeting about Hirut and the man she killed (men only!). The men believe that because it’s their tradition, it’s right. Abduction for marriage is their way of life. They blame the “suits and ties” for the change that is “ruining” their tradition. They believe the women are learning too much. However, the teacher who taught Hirut says, “I am from here. You sent me to the city to learn. I came back to my village to help educate so that they can help you.” Although the teacher is absolutely right, the men don’t see him as one because he dresses differently and isn’t married. Aside for the men begin completely one sided, they turn their nose down on the teacher but they are riding horses wearing Adidas jackets, suit pants, blazers, etc. Their minds may not be colonized when it comes down to how they treat women, but their bodies are completely colonized when it comes to clothing. This juxtaposition is shown throughout the entire film.

Oyeronke Oyewumi, author of “Colonizing Bodies and Minds”  believe that “the histories of both the colonized and colonizer have been written from the male point of view– women are peripheral if they appear at all” (339). For this movie, I think the history of Hirut’s culture is written from a male’s perspective. I also think that men are still trying to dismantle anything positive or equal in which women are trying to set in place. Like I’ve said in previous blog posts, colonization entraps the mind. However, in the film colonization is trying to free the mind but has entrapped the body. When I say entrap the body, I mean by the Western style of clothes that they are wearing. It is trying to free the mind in terms of the woman. Tradition is trying everything it can to keep the woman from achieving. However, because of imperial influence when it comes down to governmental forms, colonization is trying to improve the rights of women.


P.S: This movie is available on Netflix. You can also look up the story of Hirut.


One thought on “Difret (Freedom through Colonization?)

  1. I will have to check this movie out since it is on Netflix! Thanks for the share.
    Your summary of the film sounds so interesting, especially the part about it being in their culture for men to kidnap women in order to find a suitable wife. I feel as if there has been a common theme of oppression of women in some way or another throughout just about everything we have read so far. This does not seem too different. However, I am happy that this movie depicts Hirut’s fighting chance due to the changing government (yes! A woman with some agency…it sort of reminds me of Firdaus.) I think it is interesting how you note that this film seems to depict colonial rule actually helping women in allowing them to fight for their rights and freedom. The concept of colonialism, in my mind, is extremely complicated and films like this seem to complicate it even more.


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