Liya Kebede’s somewhat of a renaissance woman. She’s a supermodel, human rights activist, philanthropist and burgeoning actress and while she’s no stranger to the big screen, with appearances in box-office films like Lord of War and The Good Shepard, the Ethiopian-born beauty finally took on a starring role back in 2009. Her film, Desert Flower, finally hits the states this month and it shows that she can indeed act, and that the passion project is close to her heart and to her cause.
The film is based on the autobiography of model Waris Dirie and was originally released to only a few European countries in 2009. It hits the states on March 18th and Liya’s portrayal of a Somali girl’s struggle to adapt is a performance not to be missed.
Waris Dirie fled her nomadic family in Somalia at age thirteen, escaping a forced marriage and a life of servitude. She eventually landed in London where she went from being a homeless refugee to learning English and working in a burger joint, where she was discovered by legendary photographer Terrance Donavan.
Although the story carries a heavy message about female genital mutilation and the harsh oppression of women in Africa, Liya says that “at its core this film is really just about a girl… We’re all girls and we all come into this world with challenges we have to face at one point or another and the question is how do you face it? Do you hide, do you face it, do you overcome it, do you do what everybody else is doing?”
In the end, Waris Dirie became her own successful, powerful woman and continues to fight for human rights in Africa. She and Liya share that common cause, “Waris wasn’t on set throughout the filming. We didn’t really meet until the last day of shooting, but I definitely felt a close connection to her.”
She also said that “coming from Africa and coming to the West and just sort of adjusting to all of it was definitely a struggle like Waris had, maybe not so much in the sense that I was a bit more used to the culture than she was but there were still a lot of things I had to learn, it’s the immigration story that I see today in my surroundings.”
With this film, and the continued success of her foundation focusing on worldwide maternal health care as well as her Ethiopian-made clothing line LemLem, Liya’s the perfect example of this generation’s Waris Dirie.