Desert Flower | Film review
An engaging biopic does little to illuminate the controversy at its core.
A biopic made with the goal of increasing awareness of ritual female genital mutilation, Desert Flower tells the story of Somali supermodel-activist Waris Dirie (sensitively played as an adult by Ethiopian model Kebede). As a young girl, Waris flees across the desert on foot. Later, homeless in London, she finds a friend (Hawkins) and a modeling gig with photographer Terry Donaldson (Spall). After ascending the heights of fashion-world fame, she speaks to a journalist about the “circumcision” she endured as a child and ends up at a podium at the U.N., giving the issue its first-ever public airing. This is rich material, but the film obscures the issue’s complexities with forced uplift. Rather than exploring questions of cultural transformation relevant to any effort to end the ritual “circumcision” of off-screen African girls, Waris’s story unfolds as a pat escape from Somali roots to European enlightenment.