Desert Flower
The True Life Story of Waris Dirie

A Must See Movie at
The Hamptons International Film Festival 2009
Movie Review and Interview
True stories usually make great movies and “Desert Flower” is no exception. This film was adopted from the book “Desert Flower” by Waris Dirie. The book as well as the movie is the true story of her life. Waris became a top supermodel despite coming from a line of Somalian nomads. Her roots had followed a ritual of female circumcision and arranged marriages. When she was thirteen she left her family and everything she had known to get away from marrying a much older man. She wound up in London, England where she worked and lived with her wealthy relatives. After a falling out with them, she tried to go it alone. She tried to make ends meet and even worked at a McDonald’s. She met and became friends with a woman, Marilyn, and through this friendship she realized that women in America do not go through the trauma that she did in her youth. She comes to realizations through being forced to relive her past as she is trying to move forward with a new life.

Fortunately she was discovered by photographer Terence Donovan and he helped her land the cover of the 1987 Pirelli calendar. This was the pivoting point that launched her modeling career and top designers such as Revlon, Chanel and L’ Oreal chose her for their ads. She has graced the runways in New York City, Milan, Paris and London and was in the most elite fashion magazines including Vogue, Elle and Glamour. She even had a minor role in the James Bond movie “The Living Daylights”.
In 1997, Marie Claire magazine interviewed Waris where she revealed that she had undergone female genital mutilation, also known as FGM. This sparked worldwide media coverage and this was also the year that Waris became a UN Ambassador for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutation. The following year she wrote her book which became an international best seller. She was at the height of her modeling career at this time and she made the conscious decision to leave her career and concentrate on her efforts to end female circumcision. She also has a foundation that raises money for clinics and schools in Somalia called Desert Dawn Foundation.

Waris is a woman of inspiration for everyone. Her story is one of courage and willpower. In order to have her book come to life on the big screen, the search to find someone who could portray this fascinating woman was sought out in many different continents, including the United States. After literally spanning the globe, they found her in the talented Liya Kebede. Liya was born and raised in Ethiopia and shares some similarities with Waris.  She is a supermodel that has appeared on numerous covers of fashion magazines including Vogue and has been in ad campaigns for companies like Revlon just like Waris. She was also appointed as the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. It’s interesting that she portrayed a woman who she has so much in common with.

Here is one of the ads
Waris Dirie's modeled for.

This one is for Allure.
I thought that both women might have met before filming took place but I found out when I interviewed Liya that they actually met on the last day of the shoot. I also assumed that Liya was called to audition for this part but she informed me that she had heard about the role and decided to audition for it especially because she had read the book. I was impressed by that because this was a role she wanted not just something her manager called her with to audition for. I think that when an actor goes after a role that they are passionate about performing, the movie goers get to truly see that character come to life. This was definitely the case with Liya because her portrayal of Waris is outstanding! They had auditioned actors on every continent looking for the right fit and Liya was the right one for this role.
I asked Liya how playing the role affected her as far as how she felt about the life of this brave woman. She said that it made her appreciate Waris more and what she went through. “It’s an incredible journey for women and very empowering for them” she told me. “Waris doesn’t become a victim of her circumstances” she went on to say and she also said that the movie raises awareness on an issue of something that has been going on for so long in the country of Somalia.

I asked about the FGM and why do they do it. She explained that marriage is the only way out for these women so when they become of age, this ritual takes place because the husband knows that the wife is clean and untouched. In some places in that country it is changing but it does still take place. Eventually it will stop as the women find other means of getting out besides marriage such as education. I was intrigued as Liya was telling me all of this because living in the country that we do, it’s hard to imagine that these barbaric acts take place. As I sat across from Liya, I really listened to what she was saying and it was sinking into my head that I am sitting with a woman who is giving back to the world in her way and who actually knows the fearless woman that this movie is about and what she went through.
One of the many covers Liya Kebede was on.
Below you can click on the first link to view the English version of the trailer. The next link you click on is an actual interview with the real Waris Dirie.

Watch how Waris Dirie went from walking the sands in the Somalian desert to the catwalks of the fashion world. It will encourage you to go after whatever your dream is or empower you to walk away from your bad situation and change your life forever. (this is the link for the trailer) (interview with the real Waris Dirie)
I started to think how far apart our countries are geographically but in reality how close we all are in being able to help people who go through such horrific circumstances. I can’t imagine what Waris went through and even though Liya is acting the part in the movie, I have to imagine that actually going through the same actions and motions that Waris did, has to have some impact on her psyche and emotions. That’s why I applaud both of these women; Liya for having the desire to portray this woman and being able to handle the role and Waris for her bravery to lead by example and show women that they don’t have to accept what’s expected of them, they can take a stand and become their own person.

I asked Liya what Waris thought of the movie and if she knew how she felt about it and was it hard to see it out there on the big screen. “Yes it was overwhelming for her to see it because it brought back memories of everything that she went through” Liya explained. I asked her what did Waris think of Liya being the one to play her in the movie and she smiled and said,” Waris told me I was so happy it was you.” Well I have to agree because even as you watch the trailer, you will want to see this movie. Liya’s performance has you believing that you are watching Waris first hand. This is a movie that is a must see for everyone but especially for women. When you find yourself saying that you can’t do something, or it’s too hard, or you can’t figure it out, just think of what this woman went through and you’ll realize that you can overcome anything at any age.
Here are two stills from the movie with Liya Kebede as Waris Dirie in "Desert Rose"
The beautiful, brave and inspirational Waris Dirie