- Aberash Bekele, 32, is angry at filmmakers of Difret for using her story
- Miss Bekele was abducted so she could be pushed into a forced marriage
- Film was screened at Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict
- Last year, Miss Bekele won injunction banning it being shown in Ethiopia
Angelina Jolie’s acclaimed film about the kidnap and rape of a 14-year-old girl in Ethiopia has helped burnish her image as a human rights campaigner.
But the Hollywood star is at the centre of controversy after the makers of Difret were accused of exploiting the real-life victim at the heart of its story.
Aberash Bekele, 32, is angry at the filmmakers for using her story without her knowledge or consent, and failing, initially, to pay her compensation.
Miss Bekele was abducted so she could be pushed into a forced marriage. She escaped but was put on trial for killing one of her abductors. While she was released by the courts, local elders forced her into exile away from her home and family.
Miss Jolie, who helped produce the film, spoke about how it will ‘make a change’ in the world and it was screened last year at her Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, hosted in London, co-chaired by then Foreign Secretary William Hague.
But Miss Bekele believes the film, which has won awards around the world, could put her and her family in danger of reprisals.
She was never consulted by the film-makers and did not give them permission to lay her traumas bare on screen.
With the character based on Miss Bekele renamed Hirut and with the film focusing on her lawyer, the Ethiopian directors originally refused to acknowledge it was about her.
Miss Bekele, now a mother of one, was the focus of a 1999 BBC documentary Schoolgirl Killer, made by journalist Charlotte Metcalf.
Miss Metcalf, who saw Miss Bekele earlier this year, said: ‘Aberash feels doubly abducted not to have had the story acknowledged as hers. It’s an absolute outrage that they should pretend it could have been anyone’s story and she’s still fighting that.
‘Today, she could be bathing in the glow of international admiration for her extraordinary courage and resilience. Instead she is invisible, her story taken.’
Last year, Miss Bekele won an injunction banning the film from being shown in Ethiopia.
She obtained it on the night of the film’s premiere in the country, just after the producers had screened a message from Miss Jolie in which she admitted it was based on the ‘untold story of Aberash Bekele’.
While an out-of-court settlement eventually led to Miss Bekele being paid a small amount of money, she still lives in poverty and feels she has been exploited by the film.
She told an Ethiopian newspaper: ‘My life is on the edge [financially] while they are planning to premiere my story in a glamorous way. That is not right.’
Miss Jolie, 39, a mother of six who is married to fellow star Brad Pitt, 51, has become increasingly known for her humanitarian work.
The Oscar-winning actress is a special envoy for the United Nations high commissioner for refugees and was awarded an honorary damehood by the Queen for her efforts.
Last year she spoke excitedly about Difret getting a wider release, saying: ‘I cried for the first 20 minutes and then I smiled for the rest of it thinking I can’t wait for the world to see it because it will make a change’.
Her representatives did not respond to requests for a comment yesterday.
Source: Daily Mail