Angelina Jolie turns former Dubai maid's story into a movie
A new film produced by Angelina Jolie tells the story of a former Dubai maid who was put on trial for murdering her abductor in Ethiopia.
The movie, Difret, tells the story of 14-year-old Hirut Assefa, based on the story of Aberash Bekele, who was put in trial for shooting her abductor in self-defense. Angelina Jolie said that the movie "shows how the courage of brave individuals can awaken the conscience of a society."
Aberash Bekele was abducted by horsemen as she walked home from school in Ethiopia in 1996. She was taken into a hut where she was abused by older men who wanted to force her into marriage. She was able to escape the terrible situation she was in, and seized her opportunity when the kidnapper left his gun leaning against the wall with the door unlocked.
She told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email interview: "I knew I had to fight back and escape the first chance I got. My father had taught me how to fire a gun, so I took it and ran. When he and his friends chased me, I shot him. It was the most terrifying, horrible ordeal of my entire life - and I'm one of the lucky ones."
After the shocking incident, Bekele was arrested and sent to prision. However, her case attracted the attention of Ethiopian lawyer Meaza Ashenafi, who had recently founded the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association. The two-year trial eventually led to a change in law. Previously, a man who kidnapped and abused a girl could walk away without facing criminal charges if he agreed to marry her. These days a man who abducts a minor faces up to 15 years in prison.
Despite being acquitted on the grounds of self-defence, Bekele wasn’t able to return home because village elders commanded that she be banished. She then spent a few years working in an orphanage in Addis Ababa before moving to Dubai where she worked as a maid.
Aberash Bekele, now 32, was initially angry at the filmmakers for using her story without her knowledge or consent. Bekele believed the award-winning movie could put her and her family in danger. She told an Ethiopian newspaper at the time: "My life is on the edge [financially] while they are planning to premiere my story in a glamorous way. That is not right."
But a couple of weeks ago that all changed, and she recently decided to speak out about her ordeal. She says she was inspired by Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel prize-winning girls' rights campaigner, to share her story. She said: "In the past, I chose to live my life hidden, but now, with the film I have decided to take a more public role and teach about this issue. I was very inspired by Malala."