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Look Out for Liyana

As the first of the Southern Circuit Film Series, the crowd of students gathering to watch the film Liyana in Williams Auditorium was likely prepared for artistry, but not for the emotional havoc that such an unapologetically truthful documentary would wreak on them. Whatever disinterest students had as the title appeared, was soon replaced with total wonder, as they were enraptured by the story, closely following each development of the Swazi story.

The documentary centers around five orphaned Swazi children as they share their ideas to create their own hero during a storytelling workshop with Gcina Mhlophe. The children created a young girl who they named Liyana. Liyana was an orphan, like them, who faced great struggles but was strong enough to overcome the challenges before her. Her struggles were often directly inspired by the experiences that the orphaned children have known in their own lifetimes. The documentary blends footage of these children along with animated depictions of the story the children created. This additional layer of fiction somehow adds to the truthfulness that cuts through the whole film, a sincerity that makes this documentary a sort of artistic wonder.

Liyana may be a fictional character created in the minds of imaginative children, but she is made real by the truth the children breathed into her from their own struggles, experiences, hurts, and fears. From HIV to robbery to mistrust, the story of Liyana is heartbreaking, emotive, and demands each member of the audience who has heard the story to do something to change someone else’s life for the better.

Liyana is a hero that can only be seen on screen, but her story is haunting in its call for justice. Liyana’s story is a blend of many real experiences that Swazi children face, a truth that was revealed to us by filmmakers Aaron and Amanda Kopp and their team, who brought the orphaned children and their hero Liyana to the big screen. 

The documentary has rightfully earned accolades and praise from around the world, including Best Documentary at the LA Film Festival, Artistic Bravery at the Durban International Film Festival, and the Grand Prize at the Heartland Film Festival in 2017. While the filmmakers are proud of their success, their true success is in “passing the mic” to those who needed to be heard more.

Students who watched the film described it as, “unbelievably brave” and as “the single best Ox Studies event [they] have ever been to in [their] two years at Oxford.” Whether you had the opportunity to watch Liyana on campus, or if you are intrigued by this most beautiful and revolutionary documentary, I encourage you to seek the opportunity by checking out http://www.liyanathemovie.com/screenings/. Until then, be encouraged to stay strong because you are the hero of your own story, and no amount of darkness can overcome your own decision to live brightly.

Emily Macdonald

Oxford Emory '18

As a Political Science Major and a French Minor, I have big dreams of making a positive difference in the world. In 2017, I had the incredible honor of being named Co-Campus Correspondent of Her Campus at the Oxford College of Emory University alongside Marine Bruno. Although I graduated from Oxford College, I will always have fond memories of my time with Her Campus. Even as I move on to a new phase in my life, I look forward to watching Her Campus at Oxford Emory grow!
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