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New to Amazon Prime Video - A GIRL FROM MOGADISHU

a girl from mogadishu review
The true story of refugee activist Ifrah Ahmed.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Mary McGuckian

Starring: Aja Naomi King, Martha Canga Antonio, Barkhad Abdi

A Girl from Mogadishu poster

We open upon exteriors of pastoral Northern Africa, an arcadia of lush greens and hearty scrubland which soft focus cinematography blurs into distorted memories: refracted light rainbowing playing children, with the whimsical action bleeding into shadowy threat as a mysterious figure arrives. The relative harmony of the scene is then ruptured by a smash cut forward into the panicked streets of Mogadishu, where the lens, unflinchingly clear now, depicts women and girls tearing through the city on the run from men in jeeps who gleefully fire guns into the air.

A Girl from Mogadishu review

As women fall, get shot and ominously disappear from the frame we focus in on a 15-year-old girl, Ifrah Ahmed (Aja Naomi King), whose measured, retrospective voiceover informs us that she is escaping from a looming marriage to a 50-year-old paedophile during a time of civil unrest: yeah, you would cut and run. Ifrah finds a place to hide in an abandoned building. However, as is the female experience in turn of the century Somalia, there is never any real withdrawal from violence and terror. A group of ‘militias’ (ie, some thugs with weapons) find Ifrah and rape her at gunpoint.


Now, I don’t want to NEEDLESSLY INFUSE A REVIEW WITH MY OWN PERSONAL POLITICS OR ANYTHING, HEAVEN FORBID, but you can sort of see (go on flag-wavers, squint a bit beyond your Daily Express) why someone would want to leave such a brutal and seemingly hopeless set of circumstances for literally anywhere else in the world. And so Ifrah, leaving behind the culture and language she knows, embarks on the terrible life and death lottery of asylum seeking: the crowded buses, the faked passports, the confusion and fear. Hoping to end up in the States, Ifrah goes to Ireland by mistake, connecting with the fella from Captain Phillips (Barkhad Abdi, not Tom Hanks) who more or less dumps her in a half-way house. Sight & Sound style plot synopsis? No, first 10 minutes. We haven’t even properly started yet. The pile on of misery is raw and excessive, but it is a necessary exposition which sets a foundation for the real-life triumphs of Ifrah, in Mary McGuckian’s handsomely produced biopic of this phenomenal human being.

A Girl from Mogadishu review

As we speak, Ahmed is the Gender Advisor to the Prime Minister of Somalia. She has established the United Youth of Ireland, an NGO for young immigrants, and the Ifrah Foundation, which is devoted to eliminating Female Genital Mutilation. Back in the narrative though, Ifrah is shivering from the polar cold of Dublin and communicating in hesitant gestures because she has no English. A routine medical check (for HIV - 91% of the worlds' HIV infected children live in Africa) causes barely disguised and (to me, at least) deeply unprofessional repulsion as Ifrah’s genitalia turns out to be an (unscreened) manmade deformation. Completely nonplussed at the reaction, Ifrah begins to understand what female genital mutilation entails, and the dangers inherent in such archaic, controlling rituals.


Following the indecent and sustained horror of the opening, what ensues in A Girl from Mogadishu is the cheering, meticulously depicted story of Ifrah’s self-actualisation from asylum seeker to cultural iconoclast. Conflicts arise when Ifrah does return to Somalia, with its regimes and stupid, barbaric rituals, but, essentially, A Girl from Mogadishu is a hagiography of the purest and most earned kind.

A Girl from Mogadishu review

Now, if I was reviewing the subject of A Girl from Mogadishu then this would be a five-star review: a galaxy would not be enough. However, this is The Movie Waffler, not The Decisive Cultural Change Converser, and so the limited narrative opportunities afforded by the biopic, especially one as serious as this which is morally bound to cleave to what actually happened, must be observed. Thus, A Girl from Mogadishu is for the most part a film in which one thing happens and then the next, reflecting the inspirational, odds-defying rise and influence of Ifrah Ahmed. Portraying Ahmed, King is beatific, with a smile like pure sunshine, but nonetheless, while the events depicted are thrilling from a cultural point of view, as a drama A Girl from Mogadishu is benignly episodic; a film which is duty bound to relate events which are mercifully free of the opening’s gruesome conflict.

A Girl from Mogadishu is on Amazon Prime Video UK now.