Reel Shorts | Motley’s Law


filmfest_dc_logoBlurring the line of personal safety, the courageous story of a lone American litigator practicing law in male-dominated Afghanistan is at the center of the revealing documentary, Motley’s Law.

Over the last several decades, we have been inundated with news of unrest and violence in the Middle East, especially with the emergence of the Taliban in the 1990s. On the surface, the idea of any American wading into the Afghan legal system would seem unlikely, but the fact that an American woman, Kimberley Motley, is able to break through this all-male system is astonishing.

A take-no-prisoner, ballsy fighter, Motley, is a former Mrs. Wisconsin-America, and the first non-Afghan attorney to litigate in that country since 2008. Initially only agreeing to practice law in Afghanistan for “the money,” to pay off school debts for a year, her quest has evolved into a new passion that specializes in her protecting foreigners and women’s rights. Fearless and undeterred, Motley provides a solid defense for various clients, in most cases getting their cases reduced or thrown out.

Her hard demeanor softens considerably during her interactions with her family, led by her husband, Claude. Electing to leave three kids and him behind in Wisconsin, Motley stays in communication via Skype during her evenings, refusing to bring them over to Kabul, fearing for their safety. It doesn’t help that her home in Afghanistan is attacked while she was away in America, with someone throwing a grenade through her window.


Such a dangerous assignment is not for the faint of heart, and the beautiful Motley is as brash and strong as the superheroes that champions throughout the story. She constantly jokes with her assistant and driver that they are the “Justice League,” (with Wonder Woman, being her favorite) a play on her mindset and the successful bad-ass attitude that she provides for many of the clients that she ferociously defends.

Throughout the story, Motley has demonstrated to ability to be an effective and tenacious fighter who demands respect. That tenacity, along with a rare kind of grit, has given her the strength and drive necessary to hang a shingle in Kabul, represent the under-represented, survive a kaleidoscope of threats, and win the respect of the Afghan legal establishment, as well as the tribal leaders. While her presence is tolerated in the various Afghan courts, it is still off-putting for many men in the culture to be opposed not only by a woman but a highly competent one at that.

Nicole Nielsen Horanyi’s direction focuses not only on the challenges that Motley has an outsider in a foreign culture but balancing that with staying involved in the lives of her family on the other side of the world. Getting home as often as she can, Motley shares precious moments with her families on special occasions. As the situation in the country continues to evolve, it makes it much more difficult for such a high-profile target such as Motley to continue to stay safe, almost driving her underground.

Motley’s Law is the classic “David vs. Goliath” story of a strong-willed person who has successfully used her skills to integrate herself into a vocation that even Afghan women haven’t been able to penetrate to create a niche that has allowed her to help so many people whose situations could be so much worse. It would be interesting to see a follow-up story of this legal “Wonder Woman” to gauge how her impact could inspire other women to blaze a similar path.

Grade: B

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