Review: Enlightening, empowering 'The Judge' shows struggle for equality is universal

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Kholoud Al-Faqih is the subject of the documentary “The Judge.”

Kholoud Al-Faqih, the first female judge appointed to the West Bank’s Shari’a courts, says her intent was to “throw a rock to stir (the) stagnant waters” that kept women out of positions of power in the courts — and further, marginalized in society — for years.

Erika Cohn’s “The Judge” isn’t quite as revolutionary as its subject, but it’s an enlightening portrait of a trailblazing figure.

Al-Faqih was one of two women to become judges in the Shari’a, or religious, courts in the West Bank in 2009. Her caseload includes family cases, divorces and other domestic issues, which she handles according to the rule of the law.

Unsurprisingly, she faced opposition when she began — the arguments mounted against her, including that she would make judgments based on her feelings, are similar to those lobbed against Hilary Clinton in her presidential bid — and hesitant parties were shocked to learn she could perform her duties just as well as any of her male counterparts.

Cohn shows Al-Faqih on the job, dealing with various cases, and follows her home and shows her interacting with her family. Cohn also talks to her father, who says Al-Faqih was one of 12 children he put through school.

The film’s timeline is a bit muddy, and seems convoluted for dramatic purposes. At one point, Al-Faqih was demoted and forced to work on administrative matters, but her duties were eventually restored, the details of which are not fully explained.

Still, Al-Faqih is a role model, and Cohn makes a strong case for her. The struggles she’s faced and the obstacles she’s overcome are universal, regardless of race, background or religion.

'The Judge'


Not rated: nothing objectionable 

Running time: 82 minutes

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