James Cameron’s “Akashinga: The Brave Ones” documents Africa’s poaching crisis that has been raging for so long, with devastating consequences for both animal populations and communities. A revolutionary new force of disadvantaged women in Zimbabwe is poised to change everything. This highly trained, all-female, all-vegan anti-poaching unit is saving animals, positively impacting the environment, and transforming communities. Their remarkable story can be seen in “Akashinga: The Brave Ones,” a documentary short film from executive producer James Cameron and director Maria Wilhelm.
These brave women largely come from abused and marginalized backgrounds. They are trained in weaponry, hand-to-hand combat, and deescalation. They are empowered and become fierce warriors who are physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared for battle. This unique anti-poaching force was founded by former Australian special forces soldier and anti-poaching leader Damien Mander, a vegan committed to conservation and sustainability. Mander tells National Geographic that women may be more effective at stopping poachers than men, as they are better at deescalation and tend to make it through grueling training at higher rates. The women follow a vegan diet as part of an overall commitment to sustainability.
The film features powerful and beautiful imagery as the women undergo training as well as stunning visuals of the animals they are sworn to protect. “I want to use my skills and training to protect this animal…to protect this land. I’m prepared to give my life,” chants one of the anti-poaching unit’s members. Calling these women the brave ones seems more than apt, as their fierce bravery radiates through the screen.
During the COVID-19 global pandemic, scarcity of resources is even more widespread, making the animals more vulnerable than ever. This makes Zimbabwe’s female anti-poaching force more important than ever. “At a time when we need to be brave, the proud and courageous women of Akashinga have lessons to teach us all — about the unique power of sisterhood, the importance of collaboration and the essential nature of community,” director Maria Wilhelm points out. “The question is whether we’re willing to learn the lessons they have to teach.”
Akashinga: The Brave Ones had its world premiere at the EarthXFilm Festival in April and is an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival. Later this year, it will broadcast on National Geographic in 171 countries and 43 languages.