Director: Monika Grassl
Rating: 3.5 /5
Girls Don’t Fly is a documentary making its international premiere at the 2016 Hot Docs Festival. The documentary spotlights the lasting consequences of colonialism. Globalization has helped create a modern colonialism where westerners hide their white guilt and prejudice behind political correctness and ineffectual and detrimental charities.
The NGO Medicine on the Move has created the Aviation and Technology Academy in order to teach girls from Ghana’s urban areas to fly an airplane. Johnathan, an Englishmen turned “African,” and Patricia, his co-pilot and Ghanian wife, head the academy and are in charge of the day to day operation and education of the students. The couple is assisted by Lydia, a third year student, who will soon have surgery on her deformed hand, so she can obtain her aviation license. The new students’ initial enthusiasm soon wanes under Johnathan’s militaristic and erratic teaching style, derogatory remarks, and unwillingness to comprise.
The British Empire built its empire by invading and imposing their culture on countries while stealing resources. While Ghana and other former colonies are now considered autonomous, the reality is that many of the resources are still controlled or exported to foreign countries at the expense of the local residents. In addition, mentally the indigenous population are still trying to overcome the indoctrination of worthlessness and redefine their value, particularly at the government level. The original culture and traditions have not been completely destroyed but are still competing with the former colonial masters value system, to its detriment.
Johnathan and many generally well intentioned charities and volunteers invade Africa with the semblance of respecting the culture and doing what they think is best for the locals, but fail to respect Africans enough to include in them in the decision making process. The new invaders are also just as indoctrinated in their self professed superiority as the former colonial countries are in their inferiority.
In the beginning of the documentary, Johnathan comments that he became African when he breathed in the African air, but his conversion doesn’t seem to be even skin deep. He made the flight program longer than he would have in England because he claims that the people in Ghana can’t learn the information as quickly. Part of the “lesson” plan, though, included creating paper planes, which all the girls feel is demeaning because it’s something they did when they were children. He replaces the girls’ names with numbers that they wear on their shirt because in their culture some people are Muslim and have Christian names and vis versa and that confuses foreigners. Marrying a Ghanian women hasn’t helped complete is African conversion, sadly, probably because she supports his behavior.
The documentary provided an introduction to a topic that seems to be gaining traction, questioning the benefits of western charities and volunteers working in foreign countries. If someone is not a professional in the field there are volunteering in, what qualifies them to do the work and who is really benefiting. The documentary sometimes falls flat and may have benefited from providing more information about the academy’s history, how Lydia lasted 3 years in that environment, and more in depth look into everyone’s history, especially Patricia. Overall it’s a unique story that’s told well and hopefully compels people to learn more about the country and the topic. I recommend it and give it 3 1/2 out 5 stars.