Fire Eyes (1994): Docu by by Somali Filmmaker Soraya Mire about Genital Mutilation

Sundance Film Fest, 1994– Fire Eyes, made by Somali filmmaker Soraya Mire, is a rare documentary, one that is equally effective as a personal and political statement. Dealing with female genital mutilation, a widespread phenomenon in many African countries, but little known in the West, this informative docu should be seen on public TV, film festivals, and various women’s organizations.

Fire Eyes focuses on female genital circumcision, which in its extreme form creates a chastity belt made of the girl’s own flesh as she is literally stitched shut–until marriage. Docu begins with a demonstration of a seven-year old Somali girl about to undergo circumcision–her mother tells her that the “evil piece of flesh” between her thighs must be removed for her to become pure and worthy of marriage.

Mire makes a clear and useful distinction between male circumcision, a procedure that simply removes the penis’s foreskin, and its female version, which is much more drastic and excruciatingly painful. Her documentary gains poignancy and personal meaning, when she relates how, at the age of 13, she underwent this operation, which was framed as a necessary rite of passage. As a mature woman, however, Mire perceives this painful and ultimately destructive form of mutilation as a manifestation of child abuse and an ideological mechanism designed to perpetuate women’s sexual, economic, and cultural inferiority.

Using a direct, uncompromisingly investigative strategy, Mire examines the wide range of results of this practice: medical and physiological complications, psychological traumas, etc. As expected, the interviewees differ along gender lines. “A woman gets more trusted when she’s stitched,” one conservative man who upholds the custom says, “a woman is always a property to someone.”

The filmmaker is sober enough to know that as a ceremonial tradition still supported by many men, female genital mutilation might continue to prevail as it’s transmitted from one generation to the next. But she also knows that without raising the consciousness of African women and without bringing the issue to the Western medical establishment, no change would be possible at all.