A documentary called Because We Are Girls, has been screened in conjunction with the Paradise Cinemas and the National Film Board of Canada, at the Williams Lake Film Club. The film has a local significance to Williams Lake, as the story takes place here and much of the filming is on location in Williams Lake. Because We Are Girls is being screened all over festivals in Canada – The UK needs to get this over here:
Because We Are Girls, filmmaker Baljit Sangra follows the story of the Pooni sisters – Jeeti, Kira and Salakshana – all now in their forties. They grew up in a Punjabi immigrant family in Williams Lake in the 80s. When a male relative from India is welcomed into their childhood home, he starts a pattern of sexual abuse with all three girls that goes on for years. This sexual abuse remains a secret until the girls are adults and decide to come forward.
The film also has a broader cultural significance and speaks specifically to the experience of young girls growing up in a South Asian community in a small town.
Baljit Sangra’s film chronicles the sister’s decision to speak up and to launch a court case against their cousin. The reason they spoke out was that they learnt the cousin was still abusing. The film thoughtfully and sensitively explores how living in an entrenched and traditional patriarchal male culture that expects girls to be subservient and submissive can perpetuate abuse, while also investigating the dynamics of a broader community that subjects them to racism and hostility.
Because We Are Girls is careful not to blame or point fingers, which ultimately creates a powerful examination of racism, sexism and resiliency that is applicable to all cultures. As Sangra describes the film, “[t]he court case is a big thread, but it’s also about family, relationships, the immigrant experience, and racism … It’s like I’m peeling this onion, and you don’t realize the layers until you start doing it, and there are just more and more” (quoted in The Georgia Straight).
Although the subject matter is distressing, the film never becomes sensationalistic. Sangra carefully employs the use of first-person interviews, family photos, and archival footage. Bollywood film clips are interwoven throughout the film in a complex commentary on the role and importance of Bollywood films, which helped shaped the childhood ideas the girls had about purity, submission, romance, and honour. The film also uncovers how the impacts of sexual abuse can last a lifetime.
Although the subject matter is heartbreaking, the film is a beautiful and moving testament to the power of family, sisterhood and solidarity, and points a way forward for victims living and coping with the trauma of sexual abuse. As Sangra reflects, “[w]e’re committed to making change. And the more we talk about it, the bigger impact it has” (quoted in The Georgia Straight).