Please Watch Pushing the Elephant Tonight

by Phoebe Magee


“One person alone cannot push an elephant.”

Tune in to PBS tonight at 10 pm for the broadcast premiere of “Pushing the Elephant,” a powerful new documentary about Rose Mapendo, a Congolese Tutsi, a mother of ten, a victim of genocidal violence and an activist for peace and reconciliation.  

Ten years ago, Rose Mapendo, her husband, and her children were arrested by the Congolese government and held in a death camp, as the ethnic conflict that ravaged Rwanda spilled over into the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Rose watched the execution of her husband, gave birth to twin boys in a cell (and cut their umbilical cord with a stick), found a way to escape, and managed to resettle nine of her ten children in Phoenix, AZ.  Adding to the drama of the film’s narrative is the fact that the tenth child, a young woman named Nangabire, comes to Phoenix from the Congo to reunite with her mother after twelve years.  Cameras record Nangabire’s quiet pain as she struggles to find her place in a big family, a new country, and a school where everything is taught in a foreign language.

“Pushing the Elephant” is Rose’s story, and Nangabire’s story, and they’re worth telling.  But in the process, the film also examines how women suffer through and fight back against violence and war.  Rose Mapendo asks people to consider forgiveness as a policy and a political tool.  She asks other women who have suffered horribly to consider forgiveness as a path to healing.  And the women listen to her, as does the White House, U.N. leaders and Angelina Jolie.  This makes “Pushing the Elephant” unique, and important, for at least two reasons.  First, its subject is not just a victim of foreign violence to be pitied and learned from.  She’s also a determined and well-organized activist to be listened to and learned from.  Second, in all my years of watching leaders talk about war, Rose’s idea that it’s necessary for citizens to forgive one another before they can fully recover from organized violence seems gosh-darn revolutionary.  

Watch “Pushing the Elephant” at 10 pm tonight on PBS, and the trailer for it here

Find supplementary materials and background, including a super informative timeline, here

Finally: Rose Mapendo, plus “Pushing the Elephant” filmmakers Beth Davenport and Elizabeth Mandel, used the film to advocate in D.C. for the International Violence Against Women Act.  Learn more about the act, and the film’s role in “pushing” it through, here and here


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