Angelina Jolie’s movie is an important reminder that the international community can’t forgo its responsibility to end genocide.

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Angelina Jolie’s “In the Land of Blood and Honey” is an important reminder that the international community can’t forgo its responsibility to respond to genocide.

Angelina Jolie’s writing and directorial debut “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” snubbed by the Oscars and screened in very few U.S. theaters, isn’t generating the blockbuster actress’s usual buzz. It deserves better.

“Blood and Honey” hinges on a personal relationship between a man and woman from opposing sides of the Bosnia war in the 1990s. Even before filming began, Bosnian women’s groups expressed outrage about the possible portrayal of a romance between a perpetrator and victim. They accused Jolie, a well-established global humanitarian advocate, of exploiting the war.

The accusations were “very painful, especially that women would think that I would not honor them properly,” Jolie has said.

Graced with remarkable acting by actors from the region speaking in their native languages, this is no love story. It merely uses the bond between the two main characters to expose the truths of a complicated conflict. Jolie’s ability to unearth difficult stories buried below the public consciousness is what makes “Blood and Honey” so compelling.

The film offers a glimpse of the war and atrocities that took place in the former Yugoslavia. It bears important lessons for the tragedies now unfolding in places like Sudan and Syria.

Similar to “Hotel Rwanda,” which depicted the 1994 African genocide, “Blood and Honey” demonstrates why documenting and acknowledging atrocities just isn’t enough. Actions by individuals and the global community are critical.

One of the central characters, Danijel — a Serbian soldier and the son of one of the Serbian generals — questions his father about the execution of civilians and the use of rape as a weapon of war, bringing these key themes to life. Downplaying Danijel’s concerns about how the international community might react, his father responds that the world will see, but no one will care enough to do anything.

This proved partially true. Despite the deployment of United Nations troops during the conflict, it wasn’t until much later that Washington and other players took more robust actions. Even then, it was very much too little, too late. The end result in Bosnia was the death of nearly 100,000 people.

The reluctance to launch early and decisive responses to such situations is a challenge that the international community still struggles to overcome, raising questions about how little has changed over the two decades that have passed since the horrors in Bosnia.

What distinguishes “Blood and Honey” from similar films is its focus on sexual and gender-based violence. The other main character, Ajla, is a Bosnian Muslim woman held captive by Danijel and his men. Claiming to care deeply for Ajla, Danijel manages to save her from the repeated rapes suffered by the other women with whom she’s imprisoned. However, she’s still terrorized and subjected to dehumanizing treatment throughout the movie.

While Ajla’s voice is limited throughout the movie, we’re given insight into Danijel’s thinking. It’s a challenging look at a man who’s conflicted, but ultimately complicit in crimes against humanity. His story exposes how easy it can be to make the wrong decisions when meager justifications win over one’s conscience.

As the film notes in a postscript, the mass rape that occurred during the Bosnian war would later mark the first time that rape was considered a crime against humanity.

Today, in places like Darfur, Burma, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, women still bear the brunt of atrocities in the form of sexual and gender-based violence. Far too often, these stories remain untold and unaddressed, further marginalizing these victims.

The Bosnian war set the stage for increased opportunities for justice and accountability, but contemporary crimes still fail to generate the attention and response that is needed.

One of the most profound moments of the film occurs when, at one point during an intimate conversation with Ajla, Danijel justifies the actions of the Serbian forces as not murder, but “politics.” This must be our call to do more.

Atrocities aren’t about politics. Relying on a refrain about complicated historic grievances between groups, inconvenient timing, or just sticking one’s head in the sand are dangerous justifications to do nothing.

This op-ed was originally posted on OtherWords, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.

  • stephen collins

    Good work!!!

  • Mary

    I would love to see this film, but because of its limited release haven’t gotten the chance. It’s a shame, since this sounds like a truly groundbreaking film. I think we need more like it.

  • BEA CLARK

    How can I see this film? We need more of this type of film. Thank you!

  • Caroline

    She’s so fierce and brave…

  • Angel

    On your website you say to “click” for reviews and how to view the movie…thank you for the reviews–which sound to be great, but how do we view the movie??? There is no information. We don’t have any theaters playing this movie here, but I’d really like to watch it.

    • Glenda Miller

      If you click on the ‘blue’ highlighted ‘home’ at the very top of the article, it takes you directly to Netflix, so I’m assuming you’re able to view it there. Hope that helps.

      • Angel

        Glenda,

        Thank you. I can’t believe I missed the link and then complained!

  • James

    I rented the film and have to sadly say, I was very disappointed. There was no connection between the two main characters except for the bedroom scenes which even then didn’t show a “connection.” The plot was never explained. Unless you are aware of the history of the war, you would have no clue as to how the whole war started. Being married to a Croatian wife for 10 years, I am too familiar with the story which actually began much earlier than the movie dates but again I think the attempt to educate was good, its just that the directing/story writing was very very weak and left the audience with too many questions of “How did it get to this point? Why did it happen? What started it? How did it end, etc?”
    Many of us have watched movies that have great story lines but have been unfortunately been directed poorly and some movies have been directed strongly yet the story was written horribly and the lack of a shown connection amongst the actors ruined the movie, this movie was poorly written, poorly directed and frustratingly lacked any and all connection amongst the actors depicting any type of chemistry.
    Angelina Jolie is one of the most brilliant actresses of her time. I admire her humanitarian work and respect her immensely so this is not a knock on her as a person but the movie left everyone scratching their heads asking,” what was this about,” and sooooooo much was left out.

    • http://www.rebelheartart.com virginia mariposa

      I’m in the process of making a movie; it is so daunting – so hard to convey everything you want to say. You’ve got to give her credit for trying. Who else has even tried?

    • Angel

      It is nice to hear everyone’s opinion…especially from someone who has more knowledge and background in the situation (if I can call it that). I guess the positive side to movie leaving one wonder and have more questions, is that it may spur people to investigate and find out more of what happened…not sure. Then again, I’d imagine most people would not do further research. I have yet to see the movie and hope I’ll be able to see it when it hits netflix later this month.
      Thank you for sharing!

  • sylvia beye

    unfortunately I was not able to view the film some glich happened….did read a review of same but would have wished Angeline Jolie made the film universally themed because so much is happening especially in Africa or wherever wars are happening in the world…gender-based crimes are used politically to make a specific point toward the victims of war who are at the mercy of the war-mongers.It will take masses of money to alleviate crimes against humanity. Too many people are not aware or want to be involved in things that don’t touch them personally…they have no moral compass about others who are suffering in the world…when will wars ever stop??????

  • sylvia beye

    where can I view the film?

  • http://www.servanttrips.org C konnerth

    Anxious to see this movie. Being involved in ongoing peace and reconciliation missions to BiH for the last 9 years I have found it to be a beautiful land with beautiful people but some ugly scars. There is reason to hope as one school director put it to the students when we were visiting ” Your parents destroyed bridges, you must work to build them” See our website for what we do: http://www.servanttrips.org Thank you, Klifcina

  • http://futsocusa.net/forum/index.php?action=profile;u=76625 Vinamra Koshy

    Hey there! I’ve been following your website for a while now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Porter Texas! Just wanted to tell you keep up the good work!

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