Ethiopian Court Drama 'Difret' Heads To U.S. Theaters In Time For Awards Season

Zeresenay Berhane Mehari's Sundance-winning Ethiopian court drama 'Difret' will begin its U.S. theatrical run just in time for awards season

Still from Zeresenay Berhane Mehari's 'Difret'

In the Sundance-winning Ethiopian court drama Difret, writer/director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari chronicles the true story of a girl and a lawyer who take on the tradition of abduction for marriage known as "telefa". Executive produced by Angelina Jolie, the film made its world premiere at Sundance 2014– where it won the World Cinematic Dramatic Audience Award– and was subsequently selected (but not nominated) as the Ethiopian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards. Just in time for awards season, the film is headed to U.S. cinemas next month for a limited theatrical run beginning on October 23.

Mehari's debut feature, Difret tells the story of Hirut, a 14-year-old Ethiopian girl (Tizita Hagere) who is sentenced to death after she accidentally kills her abductor. Meron Getnet plays the lawyer who takes her case and joins Hirut in a fight to end the centuries-long practice of telefa, in which the abduction and rape of teenage girls is accepted as long as the man marries his victim. Difret's website further explains telefa and the legal precedent-setting case that resulted in the practice being outlawed:

"In the beautiful green plains of southern Ethiopia, girls are customarily forced into marriage by abduction. More specifically, the cultural practice of “telefa” involves abducting a girl, hiding her and then raping her until she becomes pregnant. Then, as the father of the child, the man lays claim to his future bride. The young girl’s fate is sealed when her abductor approaches the village elders to negotiate the bride’s price and act as middlemen between his family and the abducted girl’s family.

This has been a way of life for centuries in Ethiopia, until one girl changed it all. In 1996, Hirut Assefa shot and killed her abductor with his own rifle. Three hours away, in the capital city of Addis Ababa, Meaza Ashenafi, a renowned young female lawyer hears about Hirut’s story. Knowing that Hirut is facing the death penalty or life imprisonment, the lawyer embarks in a long battle to save this young girl’s life.

Together Hirut and Meza fight the charge of murder in a dual battle that takes place in the courtrooms against the constitutional law and in the remote village against customary law. After two long years of fighting, Hirut, with the help of Meaza and her organization, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), is set free on the basis of self-defense. Telefa finally becomes illegal. Her case turns a new chapter in Ethiopia’s legal history and she becomes the first woman to challenge and resist this type of violence. Aberash’s act of resistance becomes an important symbol in the history of women’s rights in Ethiopia."

Keep up with Difret via the film's official website and Facebook, and watch its just-released trailer via Shadow & Act below.


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This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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