EXCLUSIVE: Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, the creator-producer of Lifetime’s UnReal, is planning to make her feature film directing debut on a story garnered from some of the most heroic women in the world: the 100-plus female army fighting against ISIS whose members suffered through the Yazidi genocide in Iraq and then turned the tables on the terrorists. The project has been set up at Amazon Studios. The Yazidis are the Kurdish religious minority who have been hunted down, enslaved and killed.
This is such a compelling story — women victimized, their families and friends murdered, enduring and then struggling to free themselves from sex slavery and then hunting down the evil that did this (ISIS) to slay it — that it is not surprising someone would to take this on. And that someone happens to be Shapiro, the filmmaker who won over SXSW with her short film Sequin Raze and since has been Emmy-nominated and won a Peabody Award for her show UnReal.
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We heard that this film is set up from an original pitch by Shapiro, who is writing now to shoot ASAP. Producers are director J.C. Chandor, Neal Dodson & Anna Gerb; the latter two have worked together on All Is Lost, A Most Violent Year and Margin Call.
Not sure about the exact plot/story yet, but Deadline has made inquiries and was told that the filmmaker is in a deep dive into research with a number of experts on the subject — people who have been on the ground, journalists, aid workers and those who had been held captive. Apparently, she is talking to one of the lead experts in the field and contacts who know well the struggles in Kurdistan, Syria and Iraq about the plight of the Yazidi sex slaves, specifically those who have escaped their ISIS captors, taken up arms and are training to retake Mosul and kill their rapists.
One of the stories she is researching is of Kayla Mueller, the young, Christian aid worker from Prescott, AZ, who was held captive and made sex slave with a Yazidi girl at the home of ISIS leader Abu al-Baghdadi. Mueller was held captive for 18 months, and it was kept secret by the Obama administration. She often was kept locked by herself in a dark 12-by-12-foot room for weeks at a time.
Her mother told ABC News that Kayla went to help out refugees and Syrians, and in Turkey she was beloved. She felt that helping others “was what we were just here to do.” Then she volunteered and left for Aleppo in Syria to help out a friend for Doctors Without Borders (at the time, no humanitarian worker had been harmed or kidnapped). However, she was and thrown into sex slavery with the Yazidi girl.
Other women from Doctors Without Borders also were captured. As an American, Kayla was treated much worse and stood up against the ISIS guards, which was just unheard of. She was tortured; her fingernails were pulled out. The organization helped negotiate all others’ release but not hers. Not only that, but Doctors Without Borders withheld the point person negotiator’s email from Kayla’s American parents. They begged the organization to negotiate her release, but it said no, even after their own captors told the charity to negotiate for her.
Left alone, Kayla was able to smuggle a letter out and told her parents, “I have a lot more fight left in me.” The parents began negotiating for her release helped by the FBI. Eventually, U.S. forces tried to rescue them and failed. Isis told them they had three days or their daughter would die. FBI and the U.S. government basically stalled but would not even allow the parents to make an offer to save their daughter’s life and said if they did, they would be prosecuted.
The Yazidi sex slave eventually escaped and lived to tell the tale, but Kayla did not. So it seems the unlikely but profound boud between these two women might loom large in this female-empowerment film.
The filmmaker is also said to be researching the European jihadi brides, Twitter-happy teen jihadis who rushed to Syria from France, Australia and England to marry jihadis — some of whom played a central role in torturing their husband’s sex slaves.
So the project is likely to turn out as a cultural intersection of post-millennial girls and women entangled with ISIS — the role of social media and technology in this entanglement — and victims of sexual slavery, women who have been beaten, raped for months, escaping and finding power in direct revenge.
Shapiro, who had previously directed episodes of both Unreal and The Faith Diaries, is repped by UTA and the Sloss Eckhouse LawCo.
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