Knots: A Forced Marriage Story
Reviewed by Tami Smith, Film Reviewer for Shockya
Grade: B+
Director: Kate Ryan Brewer
Screenwriter: Kate Ryan Brewer
Cast: Fraidy Reiss, Sara Tasneem, Nina Van Harn, Bella Waru
Release Date: May 7th, 2021

An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man may recite the following prayer each morning:
Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.

This recitation makes a perfect sense after we realize that being a woman in such culture means: being a wife, a mother, a cook and a house keeper. Part of the “benefits” package is that a young woman does not have to go on dates or find a future husband. All the work is done for her by a matchmaker. Some of the marriages are instigated by social coercion and pressure to fit in the community.

Forced marriages and coercion to marry young are not mutually exclusive to the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Some Christian communities practice similarly when a father chooses a groom for his daughter. As a matter of fact forced child marriages are happening all across the United States legally. How come? You may ask. In New York State, the minimum age of marriage is eighteen, but the law permits exceptions, allowing children aged sixteen and seventeen to marry with parental approval, and those who are fourteen and fifteen-years-old to marry upon getting parental and judicial approval.

Director and screenwriter Kate Ryan Brewer tells the story of three women in her documentary: Knots: A Forced Marriage Story.

We are introduced to an outspoken Fraidy Reiss, who grew up in an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York. From a young age she was trained to sew, cook and pray so she could fulfill her future role as a wife and a mother. She was nineteen years old when pressured into marrying a man who became progressively more abusive, and repeatedly threatened to kill her. After complaining about her husband’s violent behavior she was told to ignore the situation and give him time to mature as a husband and a father. But Fraidy did not take all this in stride. After twelve years of marriage that produced two children, she left her abusive husband and obtained a divorce and child custody, while being shunned by her family and the community. Fraidy started a new life in New Jersey, got a college degree and founded a non-profit organization Unchained At Last, to support women wishing to leave arranged and forced marriages. As a result of her civic activities the state of New Jersey enacted laws forbidding all marriages below the age of eighteen.

Next we meet Nina Van Harn who came from the Christian Patriarch Community in Michigan. She was the “black sheep” in the family but was trained not to ask questions, be subservient to men as a wife and a mother, and let her father do the planning. At age nineteen she was forced to do the “right thing” and marry a man chosen by her father or risk excommunication from her family, the community and the Christian religion. After becoming pregnant she felt trapped, aware that her husband became her prison warden who was able to use her body as he pleased. She filed for a restraining order after which she left the community with her children and then sued for annulment of the marriage.

We also meet Sara Tasneem, a California girl who was told one day by her father, who struggled with religious identity, You are getting married. The groom was twenty-eight-years old member of her father’s religious group, and she was fifteen. She was already pregnant when they married in a civil ceremony in Nevada. Sara gave birth twice and it took her three years to get a divorce while continuing to study in high school.

Director Kate Ryan Brewer designed this documentary as a testimonial by the three women, accompanied by a surreal dancer/choreographer Bella Waru’s floating in light blue silk gown while entangled in long red ribbon.

Music was provided by Miriam Mayer while photography and editing were done by Jasmine Lord and Darmyn Calderon respectively

To watch Ted Talk segment, narrated by Fraidy Reiss, titled: America’s Forced Marriage Problem you may go to:

To read more about stories of forced child marriages go to:

76 minutes   Rated: NR © Tami Smith, Film Reviewer
Story: B+
Acting: B
Technical: B+
Overall: B+

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