Blog: Dispatches from Bukavu and Beyond

Film Review: Netflix’s City of Joy Redefines Hope

Published in Diandra Reviews It All
By Diandra Reviews

City of Joy Motto: Transforming Pain Into Power

Synopsis: Directed by Madeleine Gavin, City of Joy follows the unlikely friendship that develops between Congolese doctor Dr. Denis Mukwege (2016 Nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize), The Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler, and a charismatic Congolese human rights activist who join forces to create a safe haven for women survivors in the middle of violence-torn Eastern Congo.

The tragedy of City of Joy, as a documentary, is that it is an unknown story based on a common tale; civilian women and children are the ones that are most affected and killed by war, even though they do not fight it. Yet, City of Joy displays the unfortunate obviousness of seeing the misfortunate pay for the powerful’s choices through a story of friendship that created a safe haven for women living in hell. City of Joy is not a utopia, but, instead, the name of a gated, housing community, in the Republic of Congo, where women are safe enough to heal from a world that nearly destroyed them. 

Congolese Dr Denis Mukwege, Vagina Monologues creator, Eve Ensler, and Congolese human rights activist, Christine Schuler-Deschryver form a random, but seemingly fated bond that leads to a home for women abused, in the cruelest of ways, by the terrorizing militias. The Congo Wars were brutal, and some fear another one is coming. Yet, one thing that has remained consistent through these conflicts, before and after, is how women were treated. Psychologically, you will hear stories throughout City of Joy that will make you ask, “Why are you still alive?” It is in that question that this documentary finds glimmers of hope.

When you see how someone is living, especially if they are tortured, you may ask yourself, “How are you continuing? Why don’t you let go?” These people ask themselves the same, and, as City of Joy proceeds to explain the wars of the Congo and how rape became a common tool of destruction, the devastation on your screen makes you question the worthiness of living. You hear the tales of poor women whom are beaten, raped, watch their families die, have the little they own stolen, and even become enslaved by men who use their guns and bodies as weapons to wound them. Imagine having men enter your body without your permission, and leaving you starving, bleeding, alone, and reeling from both spiritual and physical pain. I do not mean to get graphic; although this films has scenes and descriptions that make you cringe at knowing another human being went through such suffering. Yet, City of Joy is still a lesson on how hope is not the choice of the deranged but of the survivors. 

Why let go?  Sometimes, it takes losing everything to analyze what “everything” means, and to push yourself to rebuild as someone that does not let “everything” define them. The City of Joy community should actually be called City of Strength and Wisdom because, through therapy and friendship, these women learn a higher, spiritual way of living that they can then take back to their own villages. The war may have cost them their bodies, but City of Joy, as a facility, was made to show them it did not cost them their soul.  As you watch Ensler, Mukwege, and Schuler-Deschryver unite with a genuine compassion and love for these war-torn women, you feel relieved that people do care. Each of these persons have the opportunity to not be involved in the Congo’s conflicts, and could have used their privileges to live easier lives. Yet, when you hear the victims’ stories, you understand why individuals cannot turn away.

City of Joy does NOT shy away from blaming the international community for its abandonment of the Congo. This area is used by the world for its resources, but left in rubble because of it. Yet, the power of the individual shines throughout City of Joy in showing a good person can unite good people, and, in time, make a good community. All you need is to be a good person, and you will find and be found by others like you. Thus, from the founders of City of Joy to those that call it their temple from the war, this Netflix documentary displays optimism is not just about waiting for good to happen, but also learning how to embrace it again. City of Joy Comes Out On Netflix September 7. Click Here For More Information.