Behind the Scenes: Journalist Sheryl WuDunn to tell her story behind “Half the Sky”

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From the May 9, 2013 edition

Watch one freaking History Channel special on serial killer H.H. Holmes and suddenly all Netflix thinks you “might be interested in” are movies about Satanic cults, the Salem Witch Trials and anything in which at least three and half people are murdered in a chainsaw factory.

One thing its algorithm does frequently get right, though, is what it recommends to me documentary-wise. I recently watched “The Queen of Versailles,” a 2012 doc about a millionaire family whose construction of a gaudy replica of the French palace gets put on hold as the U.S. economy falters and their timeshare business struggles. After the initial schadenfreude, you become thoughtful about this family’s woes, however frustrating they may be, because of the film’s compassionate and commentary-free storytelling.

Storytelling, while absolutely not commentary-free in this case, is also the key component in another recommended doc I recently watched, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” Based on the book by journalist husband-and-wife team Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, “Half the Sky” compiles vignettes of women under unthinkable circumstances of sexual slavery. All brought to you in a nice package wrapped in celebrities like America Ferrera, Eva Mendes and Meg Ryan.

The hope, indeed, result, is that by telling these women’s stories, the women become empowered to hope and work for better, meanwhile the rest of the world recognizes its big I-word problem — not ignorance, but indifference.

WuDunn said the power of the stories they compiled while working in various countries writing for the New York Times is what led her and Kristof to write the book in the first place.

“There was a lot of stuff that just kept coming back to us, haunting us, stories about women and girls,” WuDunn said. “We decided we should write something about the topic.”

Their book has inspired (in addition to the movie and a Facebook game on the subject) a worldwide wave of awareness of sex slavery, which WuDunn will discuss with Ferrera and fellow Pulitzer-holding journalist Connie Schultz at this week’s Women’s Fund of Central Ohio Keyholder Event.

For $50 a ticket, it’s like Netflix in real life, where the best stories await.