KNOTS: A STORY OF FORCED MARRIAGE – Review by Leslie Combemale

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Many people don’t know or don’t want to know that between 2000 and 2010 at least 248,000 children were married off in the US legally. The rate is higher for girls than for boys. In Texas, which has the highest child marriage rate, nine out of every 1,000 girls between 15 and 17 were married in 2014. The disparity between genders being married off is even greater when older, with 66% of adults 18 and 19 years old being women. The point is, it is a huge problem and a human rights issue for women and girls in this country. The fact that there aren’t federal laws against anyone under 18 marrying is an indication that the patriarchy overwhelmingly still calls the shots in the US. This is the subject of the new documentary Knots: A Forced Marriage Story, from documentarian Kate Ryan Brewer.

Through the stories of three women, Friday Reiss, Sara Tasneem, and Nina Van Harn, Brewer highlights that religiosity is nearly always a component, and that women from all walks of life can be forced into and trapped in unwanted, often abusive relationships. Through these first hand accounts, the film brings home the continued prevalence of this completely unacceptable practice, doing so with emotion and authenticity.

It’s heartening to see that Brewer hired a number of women as heads of departments below the line, since the issue disproportionately affects the female gender. The original score is by Miriam Mayer, a versatile composer who has assisted John Williams on many of his scores, including Saving Private Ryan and Star Wars, The Phantom Menace. Using the vocals of Jayla Damaris, Brewer has built a haunting score that feels like it reaffirms the weight of the subject matter. The director of photography and editor are also women.

Though it makes sense to design something to bring the various aspects of the documentary together, the interstitial segments meant for that purpose, thos of a dancer whose body is getting more and more tangled in red threads, are too long, feel forced, and a little too on-the-nose given the movie’s title, and after a while they become a distraction. The subjects and their stories may be dark, but they have tremendous impact, and it would have been better to just trust those watching to stay connected without these visual ellipses.

The film is obviously a labor of love for Brewer, and she certainly expresses an urgency for change that seems to elude our politicians. There’s value in hearing the highly personal stories shared by these women, who have gone through and survived something no girl or woman should have to endure.

3 out of 5 stars

EDITOR’S NOTE:Knots: A Forced Marriage Story is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for May 7, 2021.

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Leslie Combemale

Leslie Combemale writes as Cinema Siren on her own website,, and is a frequent contributor to MPA's, where she interviews filmmakers above and below the line, with a focus on women and diverse voices. She is the Senior Contributor at Leslie is in her 9th year as producer and moderator of the influential "Women Rocking Hollywood" panel at San Diego Comic-Con. She is a world-renowned expert on cinema art and her film art gallery, ArtInsights, located near DC, has celebrated cinema art and artists for 30 years.