Oscar winner Marisa Tomei as made her directorial debut by chronicling the harrowing story of an Ethiopian human rights activist, who was kidnapped and raped when she was just 13. Producers of the short film, "Woineshet", asked Tomei if she'd like to take charge of the project at the last minute after the original director pulled out.
The actress took a huge leap of faith and found herself in Africa days later, interviewing Woineshet Zebene - the subject of the film - and casting local actors. Tomei tells WENN, "It was a narrative 15-minute short that just kind of came up, spur of the moment... Someone else was supposed to direct it and they dropped out at the last minute, and I happen to know the people who are producing and they were like, 'Do you want to go to Africa on Tuesday and make your directorial debut?' "
"I was like, 'Can I bring Lisa Leone', my dear friend who is a cinematographer and who also directed her own shorts? We co-directed and we went to Ethiopia and we met Woineshet. She was kidnapped and raped when she was 13 and then fought to change the laws in the whole country. Now she's 21 and, in less than 10 years, she has taken on a codified patriarchal system and made it different for everybody in the whole country. It's a piece of her story."
Tomei admits she's glad the project just happened - because if she'd had time to think about it, she would probably have turned it down. She adds, "It was quite a crazy thing and I think I only could've done it spontaneously. I mean it's (film) in another language, which I don't speak, and I got there and had to cast within days with no script. This wasn't even the movie they were going to do."
"When I got there Woineshet had just gotten the head of the whole African conglomeration's personal phone number and was calling him and insisting he speak with her to make further changes. It was such a humbling experience and I'm grateful to her for what she's done for everybody and to see that perseverance. If I'm asked, I would do it again."
Tomei and Leone's short film will debut on public broadcast television in America later this year as part of a series of movies based on New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof and his partner Sheryl Wudunn's book "Half The Sky", which chronicles injustices in the Third World.