Tuesday, July 17: Tonight I go to see The Lady at Al Bahja Cinema in Muscat and I am so happy I do. I highly recommend this movie for anyone who would like to know more about this amazing winner of the Nobel Peace Prize: Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma.
THE LADY is a fascinating film about Aung San Suu Kyi and her British husband, Michael Aris; it’s a powerful true story of two people who sacrifice their lives for a political struggle against a despotic and cruel regime in Burma, also known as Myanmar. (The name of the country was officially changed by the military government to Myanmar in 1989 to eliminate the English translation of the colonial-era name. However, the name change is still a contested issue. Many ethnic and political opposition groups, and other countries, protest the name change because they don’t recognize the legitimacy of the ruling military government.)
Despite distance, long separations, and a dangerously hostile regime in Burma, Suu and Mikey (as they lovingly call each other) support and cherish one another against often insurmountable odds. The parallel focus of this amazing story is on the peaceful quest of this amazing woman who is at the core of Burma’s democracy movement up to the present day. She takes much of her inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, steadfastly refusing to resort to violence, no matter how violently the government treats the supporters of her movement.
The story begins in 1947, when Aung San Suu Kyi is two years old. On July 19, her father Aung San, who has led Burma to independence, tells Suu a story about how Burma has become poor due to oppression from other countries. After he leaves his daughter to go to work, he and a group of his colleagues are assassinated by a military death squad.
As an adult she goes to England, finds a loving husband, Michael Aris, and has a happy family life including two sons. But in 1988 her mother’s poor health forces her to return to Burma where her father, Aung San, is still widely and fondly remembered.
When she visits her mother in the hospital in 1988, she finds herself in the midst of the Tatmadaw’s crackdown in the 8888 Uprising. She’s shocked as students come straggling and stumbling into the hospital wounded and bloodied. She soon finds herself drawn into the movement to promote reform. As the daughter of the beloved Aung San, she accepts the role of a figurehead in support of self-determination by the Burmese people. She devotes herself to activities in support of goals of greater political freedoms.
Suu Kyi forms a political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and wins the 1990 elections by a landslide (with 80% of the seats). However, the Burmese military refuses to accept the result of the election and puts Suu Kyi under house arrest for what turns out to be ten years. The military cancels her husband and sons’ visas, puts them on a plane back to Britain, and bans them from Burma. Despite not hearing from Suu Kyi for years at a time, her family’s tireless struggle to have Suu Kyi recognized internationally provides her some degree of protection as the military cannot just eliminate her unnoticed.
Due to her family’s efforts, she becomes the first woman in Asia to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Yet their family’s separation continues. Suu Kyi cannot attend the ceremony, so her husband and sons must accept the award for her. This is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. She knows the date and hour when she is to receive the Nobel Prize, and she gets dressed up in her empty house and turns on the radio. But as she sits down to listen, the power is cut off, I assume purposely, as it often is during moments of importance in Suu Kyi’s life. (Surprise, surprise!) She and her housemaid run around the house looking for a transistor radio and batteries. Luckily they find one and are able to hear her son Alex give an amazing acceptance speech for his mother. Suu Kyi is of course in tears, and so am I. 😦
Another heartbreak in Suu Kyi’s life is when her husband Michael Aris is diagnosed with prostate cancer and cannot get a visa to visit Suu in Burma. As his health deteriorates, everyone struggles to get Michael a visa. Finally she begs the military for a visa for her husband, but they tell her she is free to leave if she likes. She replies, “But then you will never allow me to return to Burma.” The man says, “Yes, well that is your choice.” She says, “That is not freedom.” Ultimately, she does not leave because she knows the progress of the democracy movement is dependent on her involvement. In the end, she is unable to see her husband one last time before his early death. This is another of many moments in this movie that bring me to tears.
Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest in Burma for almost 15 of the 21 years from 20 July 1989 until her most recent release on 13 November 2010, making her one of the world’s most prominent (now former) political prisoners.
An amazing movie. Aung San Suu Kyi is one of my heroines, right up there with Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela!