CNN’S Hero Award Goes to Independent Lens Subject

Posted on November 25, 2010

Last week CNN honored Anuradha Koirala with their Hero of the Year award. Koirala is one of the foremost activists working to abolish sex trafficking in Nepal and India. She was also one of the subjects featured in the 2004 Independent Lens film The Day My God Died. Andrew Levine directed that documentary and shared his thoughts with BTB on this year’s hero. 

There in front of me was a room, a room of lost innocence, a room of stolen youth. Thirty young girls and babies all returned from India. All dying of AIDS, all knowing they are dying of AIDS. Every emotion running through me. Should I cry? Should I scream? What should I do? — Andrew Levine, Journal Entry, April 20, 1999

It was there in Nepal on my very first day where everything changed.  We were visiting Maiti Nepal founded by Anuradha Koirala, who provides aftercare for the young girls who had been rescued from the brothels of Mumbai. It was that exact moment when I realized the first step must be to document the real story, by combining real words and real statistics with pictures that don't lie.

More than a decade later and there is not a day that passes by that I do not think of my time filming The Day My God Died and the time spent with all the incredibly courageous and resilient young woman at Maiti Nepal.   It has shaped my life not only as a filmmaker, but as a friend, father, and husband. All of this flashes through my mind as I sit in a packed audience at the Shrine Auditorium with 5,000 people waiting to see who is named The CNN Hero of The Year – eight years after the film was completed. Unlike other award shows, this is less about the glamor and more about what really matters. 

The spotlight here is shining on 10 incredible human beings who are affecting the world in a positive and uplifting manner. All 10 stories are truly inspiring.  From a Cambodian man who was forced as a child soldier to set land mines, and who now clears the land mines he once set; to a 74-year-old Mexican woman who provides health care in one of the worlds most dangerous cities; to a Scotsman who provides 450,000 meals a day to children in need; and the giving goes on. 

Of the 10 nominees, only one could be awarded  Hero of The Year, and that name was Anuradha Koirala, founder of Maiti Nepal. Anuradha is one of the foremost activists working to abolish sex trafficking in Nepal and India.  Maiti Nepal’s mission is to provide prevention, housing, medical care, counseling, and vocational training to survivors of the sex slave trade. As she started her speech she asked the audience to close their eyes and picture this happening to their own daughters.  I faded back to more than a decade ago when I first interviewed her for our film, The Day My God Died.  It was then she said the following to me,

“This is the issue, if you really feel the issue, if you really love the issue you will really work for them. If you do not understand the issue you will just go on talking, talking, talking, and talking will never end.  Everyone has talked a lot.  It is time for us to work, and that is it.”

At the end of her acceptance speech, as the 5,000 people continued to cheer, she asked them to join hands with her to end this heinous crime. We were flattered to learn that the young man and woman who nominated Anuradha for the CNN Hero Award did so after watching the film The Day My God Died.


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