WASHINGTON—Tibetan women, once among the leaders of a national uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, are now preserving Tibetan culture as refugees in India and other countries, according to a new documentary by British filmmaker Rosemary Rawcliffe.
“Women of Tibet: A Quiet Revolution,” produced by Frame of Mind Films, is the second film in a planned trilogy on the lives of Tibetan women.
It was awarded the 2009 Emmy in the historical/cultural special feature category in a May 16 ceremony in Northern California.
The first film in the trilogy, "Women of Tibet: Gyalyum Chemo, the Great Mother," focuses on the life of the mother of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. A third film is in production.
“As a woman, I’ve been interested in women’s issues for as long as I can remember, [and] in particular the Tibetan issue,” Rawcliffe, a veteran independent filmmaker, said in an interview.
“I had semi-retired from making films,” Rawcliffe said. “What drew me in was the fact that there was a really strong story, an untold story, to tell.”
Combining archival footage with contemporary interviews, “A Quiet Revolution” first tells the story of the women—called “heroines” by the Dalai Lama in the film—whose March 1959 demonstration in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, sparked an uprising against China’s occupation of Tibet.
It then moves on to look at the lives of what Rawcliffe called a “middle generation, who came of age rebuilding the community in exile.”
Others, after careers in teaching, went into politics.
Eleven out of 46 members of the parliament and cabinet in Tibet’s Dharamsala, India-based government in exile are now women, the film points out.
Rawcliffe said that there is now a third generation of younger Tibetan women “who have never been to Tibet, who know Tibet only through their parents or grandparents.”
“And they’ll never know Tibet as it used to be, of course, but are expected in some way to carry the cultural legacy.”
Rawcliffe said the women profiled in the film “carry the model forward of being very strong while still maintaining their compassion and their ability to be women.”
This is a “great lesson” for the West, she said.
Speaking in an interview, Kesang Wangdu—president of the Regional Tibetan Women’s Association in Minnesota—praised Rawcliffe’s film, saying, “It really tells the story from the beginning to the end.”
Wangdu saw the film first at a meeting of Tibetan women in Dharamsala, India, she said. She then brought a copy back to Minnesota, where she showed it to the local Tibetan community.
“They really liked it,” Wangdu said.
A leading role
Women play important roles in the preservation of any culture, said Wangdu, who came to the United States about 12 years ago from Nepal, where she was born to parents who had escaped from Tibet.
“In Tibetan culture, as a woman, you teach your children to respect the family, and to respect elders and cultural dress,” she said.
Wangdu said that there are now teachers of Tibetan dance, as well as classes for the study of traditional music, in her area.
She added that the local Tibetan community—with 3,000 members, the second-largest in the United States after New York—continues to observe traditional holidays.
Women play “a leading role” in these observances, she said.
Rawcliffe noted that the 2009 Emmy awarded to “Women of Tibet: A Quiet Revolution” comes in the year marking the 50th anniversary of the Lhasa uprising.
“And it reminds Tibetans, as well as informs Westerners, that Tibet is alive and working towards its self-determination, and reminds Tibetans inside Tibet that they’re not forgotten.”
Original reporting by Rigdhen Dolma for RFA’s Tibetan service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.