Somali supermodel Waris Dirie’s life is a Cinderella story if ever there was one.
Born to a tribe of goat herders, in a remote African desert, Waris ran away from her family from Somalia all the way to London, England to escape an arranged marriage.
In London, Waris gets a menial job at McDonalds where she is discovered by a fashion photographer and becomes an international supermodel.
But that’s just the first part of the story.
The next part details, Waris mission as an international celebrity fighting female genital mutilation, a common practice in Africa, known as “cutting”, where a young girl’s clitoris is partially removed and her vagina is sewn up before she is married.
For Waris, this fight is more then just a battle of ideology, its very personal as Waris herself has been “cut”.
”As women, fellow to one another, we have a responsibility,’‘ says Waris Darie. ”I thought, ‘Nobody is doing anything about this thing that has stayed much longer than I expected; this is not something that is going to go away tomorrow’, and I thought, ‘Nobody knows better than me, so what are you waiting for?’ Because, clearly, that child is waiting for you!”
In an interview with Marie Claire, Waris Darie revealed her horrible experience and the world listened.
Then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed Waris as a special ambassador and tasked her with addressing the United Nations. In 1997, Waris published her autobiography Desert Flower, which sold 11 million copies and is now a major motion picture.
Waris was approached by several filmmakers and producers, including Sir Elton John, for the right to make her story into a motion picture.
Waris chose German director Sherry Hormann based on her promise to do 2 things:
- Make the film entertaining an not ”an arthouse film…”
- Address the topic of Female Genital Mutilation directly
”If you stop the story where she’s a top model, if that is your story outline, she will reject it…if you say, ‘A top model goes public and talks about FGM’, she will listen.” -Sherry Hormann
Ethiopian model Liya Kebede, plays Waris Dirie in Desert Flower.
Though Liya has a very different background and upbringing then Waris (Liya has not been “cut”) she is still well suited for the part.
”I knew of girls being cut, but it was never close to me,” says Liya Kebede ‘‘You know of it but you don’t know of it, what it means.”
”It is one thing to go through it personally, having to deal with the issue every day of your life – physically, I mean – but then it’s a whole other thing when she decided to tell the whole world about it. Now she has to talk about it every day of her life. I find that courageous because it’s not just an issue; it’s not just a noble cause, it is something that happened to her and it is very private.” - Liya Kebede
Though the movie does address a very private part of her life, Waris is not ashamed.
”You’ve got a vagina, I’ve got a vagina, every man in the world knows you have got one, like he’s got a prick and an arse! ‘There is nothing to be ashamed [of], that it should not be discussed because it is private! But then it is private and should not be touched – that is the point. And it’s not just my world, it’s everywhere.’‘ – Waris Dirie.
Waris Dirie saw the film about her life for the first time in a movie theater she rented for herself and was very moved.
After watching the movie, she embraced Hormann, the director, for a long time and then went to cry in the bathroom.
It was the entertaining movie she asked for.
”I know I am one of the lucky ones, really and truly one of the blessed,” says Waris Darie.
”Am I angry in myself at what has happened to me?
No, I’m sad about it.
Can I do anything about that?
No, I can’t.
”But I’m sad this ignorance is still happening. I know the world knows it’s wrong. If I’m angry, I’m angry with those who have the knowledge to change something and are not changing it.”