In the fall of 2016, four passionate individuals came together to create a documentary on the role of women in activism. Through their fellowship with the Toronto-based political think tank Mosaic Institute, Swati Garg, Rajita Dang, Nomin Gantulga, and Reyna Villasin collectively agreed to pursue a project addressing issues that were personal all of them.
Through this documentary, the creators said that they hoped to create a “visual dialogue,” different from how women may typically be portrayed in the media. They expressed their hope that the documentary will create awareness about these important issues and spark a dialogue in the SFU community and beyond.
The result of the convergence of these four women’s vision is Resilience: Her Story — an inspiring and eye-opening look at eight women’s unique experience with activism. Shot in the span of two weeks and in facilities provided by the SFU communication department, the documentary allows these women to speak freely and openly about their personal experiences and challenges with issues ranging from refugee portrayals to body positivity to inclusivity.
These are issues very close to home for Garg, Dang, Gantulga, and Villasin; as women, immigrants, and people of colour, establishing a diverse portrayal of ethnicities, backgrounds, and issues was also a significant factor in creating the film.
The creators said they were particularly inspired by the YouTube web series What’s Underneath and the documentary Human by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. The level of intimacy between the subject and the audience portrayed in these projects was something the creators of Resilience wanted to incorporate into their own documentary.
The documentary was screened on the rainy Friday evening of March 24 in a brightly lit room on Columbia Street downtown. As the scheduled screening time approached, the seats were filled with a diverse group of men and women, youth and mature adults, and individuals of various backgrounds.
The evening began with some opening remarks by Garg and Dang as they introduced the documentary and its background. They spoke on their collective decision to make the film about a diverse range of women, including women of colour and immigrants usually not portrayed in the media — either accurately or at all. They ended their opening remarks with the acknowledgment that there were important voices missing from this documentary too, notably aboriginal voices.
In the next half hour, the audience listened and watched as stereotypes were challenged, immigrants and refugees spoke about their experiences coming to Canada, and personal hardships of being a female activist were overcome. Despite the varying and unique stories of all these women, the sense of solidarity shared on screen emanated into the audience as well.
In the documentary, Iranian refugee Golsa Golestaneh spoke on the common — and wrong — perception of refugees by Western society as victims. “Refugees are like superheroes,” she said. “. . . [But] in real life they become something pitiful.” There was a sense of deep underlying anger and frustration as she said she had never seen anyone like her accurately represented in the media — including herself. Her experience in having her own story reduced to being just a victim running away from the terrible things happening in her country speaks to the denial by mainstream media of the multi-dimensionality of refugees — that they can, and are, more than just a victim.
The harmful role of media perceptions is a common theme in the stories of these women, from a fat activist from Vancouver speaking about the implications of the mainstream modelling industry on body positivity to a Libyan inclusivity activist speaking about misguided portrayal of Muslims in the media. These women’s powerful stories evoke strong emotions and speak to a much larger issue within our society.
Resilience: Her Story is a story of the resilience of women burdened by stereotypes and expectations imprinted into society by the media, and their work to implement change. It brings to light the need for more female presence in activism and emphasizes how powerful their role can be.