Like its subject's life, Alexandria Bombach's On Her Shoulders is a sometimes wearying blur of formal meetings, press appearances and glad-handing encounters with well-meaning officials. Nadia Murad, the Iraqi Yazidi champion of human rights, was kidnapped from her northern Iraqi village in 2014 by ISIS; in the years since, as the Yazidi people have had to abandon their homeland, Murad has traveled the world telling her story, advocating for refugees and against genocide and sexual violence. On Her Shoulders trails this impassioned, persuasive speaker in 2016, in the weeks before she addressed the United Nations, which had named her its first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.
Reserved and humble, still thinking of herself as a village girl with a job to do, Murad meets and greets with Canadian politicians, tours the Canadian parliament, gives radio and TV interviews and visits a Yazidi diaspora community in Canada and refugee camps in Greece. She asks, in frustration, why the western media always asks for details about her escape from ISIS -- and her time as a sex slave -- rather than about the number of women and girls still suffering such a fate. Bombach never shows us much of those interviews or of Murad actually recounting her harrowing story; the film's focus, instead, is on the grind of getting the word out, on how much effort it takes to rouse an indifferent international community to honor its commitments to victims of genocide. Especially wrenching are scenes of the Yazidi, torn from the land of their birth, separated from each other in camps, confronting the question of how to remain unified when scattered across the globe.