Fourteen-year-old Hirut is walking home from school when she is chased down and surrounded by men on horseback, who kidnap her so that one of them can rape her and marry her, marriage by kidnapping being a traditional custom. The next morning Hirut discovers that the door to the building in which she is being held is open and that her attacker has left his shotgun unattended. She escapes and, when the men chase her down again, she shoots and kills the man who claimed her, whereupon she is charged with murder. Hours away in the capital of Addis Ababa, Meaza, co-founder of the Andinet Women Lawyers Association, hears about Hirut’s case on the radio and becomes determined to help her.
Difret won audience awards at the Berlin, Amsterdam, Montréal and Sundance film festivals. Director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari graduated from USC film school and raised the money to get the project going through Kickstarter. Shortly before it played at Sundance, Angelina Jolie signed on as executive producer.
Hirut and Meaza are real people, and the case became a major cause célèbre in Ethiopia, leading, in 1996, to the outlawing of marriage by abduction, although I suspect it hasn’t died away completely.
The title, Difret, is an Amharic word that apparently has multiple meanings, including “to dare” and “the act of being raped.”