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What does it mean to set one girl free? Girl Rising says one girl with courage is a revolution. From the lauded director Richard E. Robbins comes a documentary of several girls’ stories in developing countries, each illustrating the power of setting one girl free by education. We follow Wadley, the young and artistic girl determined to continue her education in a crumbling home in Haiti; Senna, who grew up in the crisis-stricken Andes mountains, and finds solace in poetic, written word; Suma, who survived the underground servitude system in Nepal through song, and now rides to free other girls.

Each girl is paired with a writer of their country to bring their story to life. Now, we watch their collective journey, only beginning, voiced by the actresses Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Alicia Keys, and more.

It looks like a documentary, a beautiful one at that, but reads like a story: many girls’ stories come together under an umbrella of rich, lush filmmaking that ventures into underrepresented worlds. It reminds us that we often inhabit only one corner of the entire world for most of our lives, never peeking out. Most of the film takes place from these girls’ point of view, who speak for their community and their country. It seems hard to imagine sharing so much with people who only share your age, and yet these girls’ thoughts and dreams read like a universal diary.

The documentary addresses gently, firmly, what needs to surface on the global conscience. educating girls must be a priority, the film states, supplemented by statistics on what it means to educate a girl, measured in the life and health of herself and her nation. The film states simply, clearly, that girls are meant to rise, with help from those who hear them out.

Admittedly, it’s not easy to go crusading around for a cause, when it feels like somebody’s always trying to make us feel guilty about something. Words can disintegrate into white noise on the web, and cliches lose heart. Admittedly, I shied from my own mom and sister when I watched this, having already being teased about my “girly” documentary, and fearing further comments.

But if we cannot hear what these girls have to say, we cannot accomplish any change in their lives. I felt a swarm of guilt when I read Entertainment Weekly’s review, calling Girl Rising “the documentary every mother, sister, daughter should see, as well as the men who love and support them.” It is worth pausing our own stories, momentarily, to invite in another’s; it is worth educating ourselves about the quiet reality millions face, and feel empathy for the stories that move us. Girls are rising; they must.

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