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Shirin Ebadi: Until We Are Free

average rating is 4 out of 5


Amber Jackson


Posted on:

Nov 7, 2022

Film Reviews
Shirin Ebadi: Until We Are Free
Directed by:
Dawn Gifford Engle
Written by:
Dawn Gifford Engle
Shirin Ebadi, The Dalai Lama, Parvin Ardalan

Telling the story of Shirin Ebadi’s fight for justice against Iran’s human rights violations, Dawn Gifford Engle’s documentary Shirin Ebadi: Until We Are Free provides a necessary context to the historical, cultural and political changes inflicted upon Iran. This documentary comes at a perfect time, as potential uprisings fighting for the rights of women are ongoing with even more velocity in Iran and around the world in protest of the country’s human rights violations. Ebadi’s efforts, along with her upbringing in Iran, are the central focus with her personal testimony and her journey to becoming the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. This film is a tribute to her life’s work and its legacy.


The eighty-minute film speaks on civil unrest and protests from the people of Iran up until the present day and the wrongdoings of the Iranian Islamic Republic and dictatorship. It provides a political lesson, as well as a historical one, of Iran and the First Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great (circa 550 BCE). Gifford Engle’s work muses on the history of Persia as being a kind culture, where all religions and cultures were respected, and women were treated as equals. This context is told with animations and drawings edited into the narration and is a fantastic history lesson as UK schools do not tend to teach these topics frequently. It assists in providing a really thorough historical background and context for Ebadi’s work and her Persian background.


Within the film, Ebadi muses that “no society is absolutely ideal.” She speaks of a nostalgia for her childhood of growing up with her family in Tehran and Hamedan and how suddenly her innocence was interrupted by Mosaddegh (Iran’s first democratically elected leader) being removed from government by a coup organised by British and American intelligence in 1953 and replacing him with the Shah. She speaks of the pain it caused her family, among other supporters of democracy, in a raw way that offers viewers insight into how she became the woman that she is today. From attending law school to better understand her country’s history, to becoming one of the first women judges, to having a political voice and seeking to secure the national rights of women and children, this documentary truly cements the legacy and positive impact of Shirin Ebadi.


The film does an amazing job of summarising these events in a way that is accessible for all viewers. Archival footage portrays the reality of the Shah’s autocracy and how the general public were angry and protested for a pro-democracy state. 1970s footage of chaos in the streets and people hoping for a ‘free Iran’ is powerful to watch especially in the present day. Along with the edited and animated footage, it is incredibly compelling and adds an extra dynamic to the feel as though it is more interactive.


Ebadi’s legal work to rectify human rights violations, as well as opening free schools for street children in Iran and changing child custody laws under Shariah law, could be considered just some of her many achievements. This documentary sheds light on her true courage in how she used – and continues to use – her platform to better the lives of others. It has led to a huge movement of women’s rights and pushing back against violence and fighting for a better future for Iran. It also speaks of what the world is currently seeing from Iran and how this fight has become a greater global movement. On this herself, Ebadi says: women have a better situation in countries where there is democracy and part of campaigning for change is making women aware of their rights and of the toxic culture/s that persecutes them. This is one of many ways that Gifford Engle’s film further legitimises Ebadi’s pure strength and perseverance.


What stands out the most is Ebadi’s interviews where she talks about educating young people properly about the realities of war and its damages and the importance of the younger generations for Iran today. Her interrogation of laws and atrocities in Iran, as well as women’s rights being threatened worldwide, speaks to her point of the fragility of human freedom. It is topical given the current turmoil in Iran and this documentary successfully documents a struggle to end injustices especially for women and a hope for peace.


Ebadi now lives happily with her two daughters and a close-knit family in London. Yet, there is still a sadness as she remains apart from her husband. She travels across the world to speak about current events in Iran and other human rights atrocities. She continues to refuse to be silent and hopes to be able to return to her homeland one day.


Currently, women are leading thousands of protestors in Iran and around the world in the hopes of bringing the current Iranian government to an end. They speak with hope and confidence that one day they will be victorious – and Dawn Gifford Engle’s film supports just that. This is a very powerful watch and one that all viewers will enjoy.

About the Film Critic
Amber Jackson
Amber Jackson
Documentary, Indie Feature Film
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