Dry, the latest directorial work from noted Nollywood actress Stéphanie Linus, aims to shed some light on a serious condition, obstetric fistula, impacting many women in Africa. Using her film as a call to action, Linus’ drama follows two individuals, from seemingly different worlds, whose lives intersect in an expected way.

Zara (played by Linus) worked hard to become a successful doctor in Wales, and the last thing she ever wanted to do was return to her place of birth. Unfortunately, when her mother fails ill, and is not able to go on her yearly medical aid mission to Africa, it is up to the reluctant doctor to take up the charge. The trip not only opens Zara’s eyes to the widespread obstetric fistula epidemic, but also forces Zara to confront a past she has spent years trying to block out. While Zara revisits her nightmarish childhood, Halima is in the midst of living through her own.

Barely thirteen-years-old, Halima (Zubaidat Ibrahim Fagge) has been pushed into an arrange marriage with the wealthy Sani (Tijani Faraga) by her poor parents. At sixty-years-old, and with three other wives to his name, Sani is hardly a catch to say the least. Furthermore, and most importantly, Halima is still a child. Completely aware that she is not ready for the adult responsibilities that come with marriage, her pleas to not go through with the union fall on deaf ears. As a result, Halima is subjected to repeated rapes and other forms of abuse at the hands of her husband.

An emotionally charged film designed to both spark discussion and evoke change, Dry offers much food for thought. Linus makes a compelling argument that African women are becoming an endangered species thanks to obstetric fistula. If the rampant practice of rape, and underage marriages, are not addressed by society, millions of women will lose more than their childhood. Linus really hits this point home by showing how quickly Halima is treated like a pariah within the community when she becomes ill.

While Linus must be commended for tackling such an important subject with the level of grace that she does, there are times when film beats the audience over the head with its symbolism. Take for example the two insignificant doctors at the beginning of the film who remark that Zara does so much charity work that “she must be trying to make up for something.” Fortunately, these types of moments do not take away from the overall impact of the film’s message.

Linus shows that Africa requires a cultural change in regards to the deep-rooted societal views of a woman’s worth. The only way for such changes to occur is through obstetric fistula awareness, open dialogue, and finally acknowledging the atrocities women endure for what they really are. Conveying a much needed sense of urgency, Dry implores its audience to not sit by idly while so many women are dying senseless deaths.

Saturday, February 13, 3:00 PM, Carlton Cinema

Tickets can be purchased at the Toronto Black Film Festival website.