The idea behind “Girl Rising” is strikingly simple and even more strikingly imaginative. The documentary, which aims to illuminate the plight of girls in the developing world, has nine girls reenact actual incidents from their lives to illustrate aspects of that plight. The aspects include child labor, little or no access to education, sexual abuse, poverty, arranged marriage, and so on. Each vignette has a voice-over written by a woman writer from the girl’s country. Some of the writers are quite well known, such as Edwidge Danticat, for Haiti, and Marie Arana, for Peru. The voice-overs feature an amazing array of vocal talent, including Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Alicia Keys (if she ever decides to give up music, she has a real future in acting), Kerry Washington, Salma Hayek, and Cate Blanchett.
The one male voice belongs to Liam Neeson, who provides an overall narration. It largely consists of statistics, nearly all depressing. For example, 50 percent of sexual assaults in the world are on females under 15; there are 33 million fewer girls than boys attending primary schools. The numbers are startling — yet also not surprising. The statistics come in linking segments between the vignettes. The segments show girls of various ages and races holding up placards in a sunny field.