And the Crowd Roared…

March 06, 2009

In celebration of International Women’s Day, last night I had the pleasure of attending a sold-out screening of A Powerful Noise. This acclaimed documentary takes you inside the lives of three women — Hanh, an HIV-positive widow in Vietnam; Nada, a survivor of the Bosnian war; and Jacqueline (“Madame Urbain”), who works to empower girls in Bamako, Mali — to witness their daily challenges and significant victories over poverty and oppression. More than 450 theaters across the United States participated in this historic event. Twitter and other social media were also used to garner support for the film; a Tweet-a-Thon about the film raised $2,800 for CARE .

The evening began with a sense of anticipation and buzz as I rushed through the motions of aftercare pickup, homework, and dinner. I arrived at a theater filled with women (and two men), many of whom seemed to have come in groups. I began a conversation with my seat neighbor, who indicated that her daughter was part of a group of 21 women who had all gone to dinner together before coming to the theater. The previews rolled stark, painful statistics about the state of women and girls around the globe: illiteracy, poverty, displacement. We also saw the powerful video The Girl Effect, which demonstrates the tremendous contributions of girls in their communities and their unlimited potential as women.

Members of the AAUW CA southern area branches meet for dinner before the screening

Members of AAUW CA southern area branches meet for dinner before the screening.

The film’s producer, philanthropist and businesswoman Sheila C. Johnson, introduced the evening and reminded us that the purpose of International Women’s Day is to “recognize the accomplishments of women and reflect on the work that remains to be done.” She expressed her firm belief that by galvanizing the power of women we can start a revolution that cannot be stopped.

No stranger to the developing world and women’s issues, I was still overwhelmed by the women’s stories — simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring. Each woman has tapped her own power and used it to effect change in her community. That one person can make a difference was starkly evident. Despite the devastation of war, HIV/AIDS, poverty, and exploitation of girls, these women found hope.

AAUW branches across the United States participated in the event. Jane Edwards, AAUW International Affairs Chair in Iowa, reported:

A diverse audience enjoyed A Powerful Noise last evening in Ames, Iowa. Two high school exchange students from Nigeria and their host came because they saw the promo at the movie theater in January. Several members of the Ames branch and AAUW of Iowa President Diane Patton and two members of her branch were there as a result of the AAUW message. Additionally, Iowa State students, faculty, and staff, employees of the Meredith corporation, members of ONE, members of Friends of International Women in Ames, and other community residents attended. Comments included “a high-quality production,” “can we see this again with additional members and friends?” “inspiring,” “what a well-spoken and well -informed panel!” “a thrill to be a part of such a presentation,” and “there is some hope.”

AAUW Ames (IA) Branch discuss the film afterwards

AAUW Ames (IA) Branch members discuss the film afterwards

The film was followed by a live town-hall discussion in New York moderated by Ann Curry and featuring Madeleine Albright (2005 AAUW Achievement Award winner), Christy Turlington Burns, Natalie Portman, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and CARE CEO Helene Gayle. Questions were taken from the audience and online. The panel participants provided insight and challenged us all to be a “voice for the voiceless.”

The world will never change if we continue to expect someone else to step up. Women need to work together to break the cycle of poverty and oppression. What a world this will be when we all accept this challenge! Find out how YOU can make a powerful noise.

This post is part of a special Women’s History Month series.

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Gloria L. Blackwell By:   |   March 06, 2009


  1. UPDATE: The tweet-a-thon was so successful that NCM Fathom has decided to donate the full $5,000 to CARE.

  2. A representative group of 26 members of the AAUW CA southern area branches met for dinner and went to see A Powerful Noise. The shared comradery was evident among the group, which included current and former state board members, southern area branch presidents, IBC leaders, branch members and guests (Voices of Women). Some comments from those who attended were:

    It was hard to be reminded of realities such as rape as an instrument of war and female genital mutilation.

    Whenever I am overwhelmed by the enormity of the task of global women’s empowerment, I am reminded about “random acts of kindness”, the effects of which can be far-reaching and long-lasting. We all need to ask, “What more can I do?”

    I was very moved by the stories of these women and would like to do more.

    What an inspiring evening!

    I wish I could have heard the many conversations that took place on the way home from the event. Let’s keep the dialogue alive and follow up with the next “best steps”! It was a very powerful evening.

  3. I saw the film in Bowie, MD in a theater filled with Alpha Kappa Alpha sisters. What a roar went up from the crowd when the sorority got a shout-out from Sheila Johnson! The film was a shocking reminder for me of the power of education. At AAUW, I work to help close the gender gap in STEM so American women have equal access to advanced education and economic security – a prospect which, sadly, many other women around the world can only dream about. In Bamako, the children of Madame Urbain are struggling to learn skills many in the U.S. are taught in our first few years of schooling. What, I wonder, might the women of Bamako achieve given the same advantages American women often take for granted?

  4. Gloria Blackwell Gloria Blackwell says:

    Another great quote from Iowa:

    “I really didn’t know what to expect from the advance notices, but I was amazed at the power of the message this film extended to its audience….It took me far away from the concerns about the economy in our country, weather conditions, and the hundreds of mundane concerns we have day in and day out…I shall remember this evening for a long time. It has given me some new ideas of how I can help in this global crisis.”

    Also, if you would like to purchase the A Powerful Noise DVD, pre-orders start May 5th!

  5. Kim Cordell says:

    In Myrtle Beach there were only four women in the theatre. My daughter and I were truly inspired by the stories and discussion. If women with such adversity can improve their lot in life and then their own community, we all must do more where ever we live! My daughter hopes to be part of the Teach for America program, to help children in poverty, when she graduates in May. I continue to teach English to Hispanic children and families. We hope our noise becomes more powerful here in the USA, so that we can empower more women and girls to be self sufficient.

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