Filmmaker Michealene Cristin Risley documents one of the most astonishing and harrowing developments in contemporary Africa: adult men in Zimbabwe who are infected with the HIV virus or have full-blown AIDS are encouraged by bogus “traditional healers” to rape young girls in order to free themselves of the disease.
Risley details the work of the Girl Child Network (GCN), a Zimbabwean nonprofit that provides shelter and education for sexually abused girls. A great deal of the film focuses on GCN founder Betty Makoni, who is working tirelessly to promote female empowerment and to halt Zimbabwean society’s primitive attitudes towards young women and girls.
To her credit, Risley offers a very rare view of a politically brutalized nation that has been off-limits to most Western journalists (Risley was expelled from the country while shooting this film). Unfortunately, Risley decided to follow the example set by the likes of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock and place herself at the center of the film. While there is some justification in her desire find affinity with the GCN youngsters – she states that she was sexually abused as a child – Risley winds up hogging too much of the film and detracting from Makoni’s compelling story.
“Tapestries of Hope” is well intended and often shocking, but the GCN experience is deserving of a better-focused film.