Monday, March 21, 2011

Reel People: Liya Kebede is Waris Dirie

The film is Desert Flower, directed by Sherry Hoffman based on the autobiography by Waris Dirie titled Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad.

Waris Dirie

Waris Dirie was born in Somali, probably around 1965 to a nomadic people group. She was one of 12 children.

As was common to her people group, Waris experienced as a young child (somewhere between 3 and 5) a procedure that is usually referred to as female circumcision, female genital mutilation or female genital cutting. In the case of Dirie and her sisters, the external female genitalia was removed and vaginal opening was stitched up leaving only a small opening for the passage of bodily waste. The intention of the procedure was to ensure down that Waris, as well as other females, would not be able to experience pleasure later in life through sexual intercourse, thus eliminating the temptation to dishonor their families and future husband by engaging in sexual acts before marriage, or infidelity during marriage. It also would require her husband to remove the stitching with a knife when they were married.

At the age of 13, Waris was set up with an arranged marriage to an older man, and in a bold move, Waris would first go to Mogadishu where her sister live and the found a way to go to London to serve as a maid in the home of her uncle. Through a series of events with her family she ended up having to move out and live at a YMCA while she made ends meet working at a McDonalds fast food restaurant.

In a chance meeting, photographer Terrance Donovan, a renowned fashion photographer from England reached out to Waris about her interest in modeling. who had contacted her with the opportunity to model. This modeling opportunity included being featured in the prestigious Pirelli Calendar in 1987.

From there, Dirie had an active modeling career regularly appearing on prestige runways in Milan, Paris and New York City. She was featured in magazines like Elle, Glamour, and Vogue.

She did ads for Levi's, Chanel and Revlon. She even had a very minor part in in 1987 James Bond film The Living Daylights directed by John Glen.

In 1997, Dirie did an interview for the magazine Marie Claire with Laura Ziv where she for the first time shared about her experience with female genital cutting that had been performed on her as a child. From here, the story quickly spread including a number of interviews, and a position with the UN as an ambassador for the abolition of female genital cutting.

It was at this time she ended her modeling career so she could focus on her humanitarian efforts.
The interest in Dirie led to her first book, Desert Flower, published in 1998 that became a best seller. She traveled to Somolia to pay a visit to her mother. She would later right additional books best sellers including: Desert Dawn (2004); Desert Children (2005).

In 2004 a stalker (Paolo Augusto), had stalked Durie 1000 miles across Europe and eventually came into her home in Austria. In March of 2008, there was another incident with Durie when she went missing for three days in Brussels, but was found by a policeman.

No longer a model, Wirie Durie continues her humanitarian work, as a citizen of Austria (citizenship was granted in 2005).

Desert Flower

The film Desert Flower features model Lya Kebede in her first feature length role having, performed some other previous film roles, but is more well known as a model, being Estee Lauder's first female model of color. She is from Ethiopia.

The film also features performances by Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall and Anthony Mackie.

Will Ethiopian actress Liya Kebede gain critical attention or even an Oscar nomination/win for her role her portrayal of this Reel (Real) Person?

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