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October 30, 2018



written by: Karen Edwards
produced by: Karen Edwards and Sasha Achilli
directed by: Gemma Atwal
rating: not rated
runtime: 79 min.
U.S. release date: October 22, 2018 (HBO)


You may recall when #BringBackOurGirls, a global social media campaign from 2014 that kicked off when First Lady Michelle Obama was pictured holding a sign with the hashtag plea after news hit that 276 Nigerian school girls were kidnapped from a school in Chibok, Northern Nigeria by Boko Haram, a violent Islamic insurgent movement. Understandable concern and outrage followed, with celebrities around the world sharing concern which put pressure on the Nigerian government to retrieve the girls. They were hidden northwest of their village in the vast Sambisa Forest for three years until a year ago, when 82 of them were released which is the focus of director Gemma Atwal’s HBO Documentary “Stolen Daughters: Kidnapped By Boko Haram”, a film that details their captivity and what has occurred in the year since their release. 

Atwal and her team were granted access to the freed girls, who had been taken to a secret government house in Abuja for their own safety, where contact with the outside world was greatly limited. They would live there, receiving food, education and counseling, yet they were discouraged from discussing their time in the forest. At a little over an hour in length, “Stolen Daughters” obviously doesn’t spend time with every girl adjusting to life outside of captivity, but the handful of girls we do spend time with offer insight into not only what happened to them, but what the cyclical 24/7 outlets don’t have time to report on…who these girls are and what has become of them since the world became aware of their plight.

While the length is short, the documentary covers a good deal of the ground – at least enough to brief us on all that has transpired, but it also leaves wanting to know much more. Nevertheless, “Stolen Daughters” is compelling, mostly in how it covers ground that the news has missed, something that is realized the more time we spend with the specific girls the film focuses on.

The Nigerian government is assisting in their reentry into society by providing counseling and providing an opportunity to continue their education at a residential, government-funded program at the American University of Nigeria in Yola. Throughout the film, we spend time with certain girls who were abducted and listen to them share their experience in captivity as well as their thoughts on their release and freedom. The names of the girls were changed for safety reasons, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of meeting them. We’re introduced to Margret Yama and Hannatu Stephens, two girls from Chibok, who were released in May 2017 and are living in their protected residence in Abuja.

Margret tells the filmmakers how she was in disbelief when she became free and shares how she eventually thought, “I can’t dwell on what happened to me”, and how “…the past is like water. Once it is spilled, it’s spilled forever.” Meanwhile, Hannatu lost part of her leg during a Nigerian military airstrike while she was in the forest with Boko Haram and awaits a prosthetic leg that the government is supplying her with.

As we learn how the girls are adjusting to life after their traumatic experience, we also see some of their family members, parents or siblings, who have been devastating in their own manner by their loved ones capture. Many of them are still paralyzed with grief over what happened, which makes it awkward for the girls when their family members visit them.

While these freed Chibok girls are being cared for, there are also those affected by Boko Haram in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, which has been the site of numerous attacks and remains extremely volatile. Some girls who have escaped wind up in this city, living off the street with no home or family to stay with. They are called the “Forgotten Girls” and one such girl is Zahra (again, not her actual name), who shares her experience staying with Boko Haram; how they gave women certain tasks in the three months she was there: caring for the sick, helping those who were pregnant and assisting in the kidnapping of more women. She shares one particular memory which is seared into her mind forever, when a helpless girl she helped her captors kidnap was gang-raped by around ten men and then left to starve and die in isolation. In one of the most heart-breaking moments she stares squarely at the camera and states, “I will never forget her all of my life.” Since her escape, Zahra has taken in two boys who were kidnapped as children by Boko Haram to become soldiers and who now consider her as their mother.

Some of the Forgotten Girls who remain in Maiduguri or return to Chibok are often treated with suspicion because of their connection to Boko Haram, specifically how the terrorists use the girls as suicide bombers. That’s why they are treated differently and have a altogether different experience than the Chibok Girls. Many of them live moment-to-moment in the slums and refugee camps, abandoned by the Nigerian state, but are resilient and persevere, telling their stories regardless of their obstacles.

Despite gaining access to these girls and the information they provided was indeed tricky. Much of what we learn comes from the cameras following the girls, but their own story comes from certain girls who provided access to the journals they kept while in captivity with their names being kept in anonymity.  One gets the impression there is a certain amount of denial, guilt and shame on the part of the Nigerian government, in how the whole situation was handled and certainly because there are still girls who remain missing. At times, there’s even a feeling as if the authorities were trying to point the filmmakers toward a certain rehearsed narrative.

“Stolen Daughters: Kidnapped by Boko Haram” could have easily gone longer or extend into a mini-doc, with whole episodes focusing on each child, or other children who were released. That’s no slight on what Atwal presents here, It’s just an indication that there’s more stories to tell. However, I’m glad this information is out there now and covered in such a sensitive and indepth manner. Still, 112 Chibok girls are still missing and the threat of Boko Haram remains.




One Comment leave one →
  1. quintexe permalink
    October 31, 2018 5:36 am

    Amid government interventions these girls still held hostage, Nigeria is quite far from meeting the SDGoals of 2030 check my blog about Peace and UN promotions on Let’s give global peace a chance and combat terrorism

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