For better or for worse, Margaret Thatcher‘s role as British prime minister has been in the spotlight this year thanks to Meryl Streep and The Iron Lady. But an inspiring film about another woman leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has received much less attention despite an extraordinary performance by Michelle Yeoh.
The Lady, which some of you saw at last week’s Athena Film Festival, opens in limited release this weekend. It tells the story of Suu Kyi, who challenged brutality and injustice in Burma (also known as Myanmar) by helping found the National League for Democracy. Known as “the lady” when the Burmese people were banned from saying her real name, Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to bring non-violent change to her country — and also spent 15 years under house arrest.
Suu Kyi’s journey took her from raising her kids in Oxford to becoming Burma’s opposition leader. At one point, she had to choose between country and family when her husband Michael Aris (played by David Thewlis) was diagnosed with terminal cancer and forbidden to enter Burma. If Suu Kyi left to visit Aris, she would not be allowed to return.
Director Luc Besson became interested in the project when he and his wife visited Burma in the early ’90s.
At the time Suu Kyi had just won the election but was under house arrest. It was an extraordinary experience for us. On the one hand, it is a stunningly beautiful country but on the other it is frightening – the austerity, the poverty, the sadness of the people. We weren’t really allowed to go anywhere and people were scared of talking to us. It left a long impression on both of us.
Yeoh, who learned Burmese for the role finally got to meet Suu Kyi when she was released from arrest in November 2010.
Yeoh believes that this is the most important role she has ever played.
“As an actor, you hope to find roles that are challenging to you as an artist,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “Then if you are truly blessed, you will find that it also carries a message that you can impart to your audience. With The Lady, we are creating the awareness of what Daw Aung San Suu Kyi represents: The story of why it is important, and for us to appreciate the democracy that we sometimes take for granted.”
Fortunately, things seem to be changing in Burma/Myanmar as the government claims to be committed to democratic reform. In December, the U.S. sent its first envoy to the country in more than 50 years — headed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — and Suu Kyi just received official approval to run for Parliament in the April elections. She’s not certain that she’ll succeed in bringing democracy to her country if she’s elected, but she want to promote her principles from within the government if she can.
I look forward to seeing The Lady and learning more about this remarkable woman. And hey – Michelle Yeoh. When history meets hotness, the result has to be good. What do you think? Will you add The Lady to your list of must-see films for 2012?