This movie review was generously shared with us by the Sierra Club’s Green Life Blog.
Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai (2008)
Limited screenings and available on DVD
Wangari Maathai has worked since the 1970s to promote democracy and women’s rights in a culture that’s traditionally repressed both. Her success is all the more remarkable when you consider that the groundswell of change and empowerment she inspired came about through such a seemingly simple act: planting trees.
Born in British-ruled Kenya, Maathai came to the U.S. as part of the Kennedy Airlift, the same program that brought Barack Obama’s father here for higher education. Some alchemy of new confidence and a perspective that offered possibilities beyond those she saw in her home country brought her back to Africa, where she began a tireless, often perilous, campaign to realize her dream of a greener and more just world.
Via interviews and historic footage, this film traces Maathai’s path from her first activist ventures to the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies, where she became the first African woman, and the first environmentalist, to be honored. Facing formidable opposition from government and societal institutions (she was repeatedly assaulted and jailed by government sympathizers, especially during the rule of Daniel arap Moi), she slowly built a coalition of mothers, wives, and sisters who came together to plant trees. In finding a livelihood and sense of purpose, the women of the Green Belt Movement were empowered to stand up to the forces that held them down.
Since its founding in 1977, the Green Belt Movement has planted more than 40 million trees and helped thousands of women earn a living while preserving their natural and cultural heritage. Maathai’s work stands as proof that justice and environmental health are inseparable parts of global well-being — and that one (indomitable) person can change the world.
Review by Zoë J. Sheldon
Reprinted with permission from Sierra Club