Mary and Martha
starring Hilary Swank, Brenda Blethyn, Sam Claflin, Frank Grillo, Lux Haney-Jardine, Bongo Mbutuma, Ian Redford and James Woods
written by Richard Curtis
directed by Phillip Noyce
Called “Life” in Japan, Mary and Martha is a heart-rending tale of two mothers - one American and one English - who lose sons to malaria in southern Africa. American mom Mary (Hilary Swank) takes her 10-year old son to South Africa as an educational adventure and to escape bullying at school. English mom Martha (Brenda Blethyn) sees off her 24-year old son who has a teaching job at a rural South African school. In their grief they discover each other, share their stories, and at least temporarily stay on in South Africa as self-prescribed grief therapy. Mary has to get back to her American life. But Martha, who is much older, has the liberty to stay on and lend a hand in the ongoing malaria battle. Eventually Mary gets drawn in to her country’s political process as she begins petitioning Congressmen to increase U.S. funding of the relatively inexpensive and simple mosquito net strategy. Both she and Martha end up delivery a heart-rending appeal to a Congressional committee.
The two women kind of parallel the New Testament story of Jesus’ disciples, the sisters Mary and Martha.
While one sister sat at the Master’s feet her more practical sibling worked in the kitchen ad complained about her unhelpful sister.
There are marvelous scenes of southern Africa, and African actor Bongo Mbvurtuma is positivelyeye candy for the ladies. I mean he’s one heck of a good-looking guy.
Completely by coincidence, it was just in the spring of this year that I got an earful of information about insecticide-treated anti-malaria mosquito nets at a Japanese public high school. I was among a panel of English teachers judging an English speech event whose theme was technological assistance to developing countries. (The high school is a science and technology-streamed school. Everyone there will go one to engineering, medicine, chemistry and research careers.) Featured topics included mosquito netting for the fight against malaria as well as chemical toilets, water purification plans, water irrigation, solar power cells, wind generators, alternative fuels, genetically-modified rice, etc. The students introduced me to the Dongren mosquito net, about which I learned a lot.
In 2012, the most recent year for which statistics seem available, there were an estimated 627,000 malaria deaths in the world, mostly in Africa and India, mostly children.