CAN AN ALMOST ALL MALE / WHITE OSCAR CEREMONY REDEEM ITSELF IN THE DOCUMENTARY CATEGORY?
Tonight’s Oscar’s are hopeless right? Lots of incredible film industry talent are boycotting because of the under-representation of women and anyone who isn’t white. But there is one bright spot.
Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is an award winning film maker from Pakistan who heroically and sensitively exposes the tough issues of place, culture and tradition is up again. Sharmeen won a prize at the Oscar ceremony in 2012 for her film entitled Saving Face. Sharmeen continues to delve into the egregious issues that impact women in more traditional countries like Pakistan and in her latest film, “A Girl in the River, the tough issue is “Honor killings” or “Karo-Kari.”
“A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness highlights the challenges of 19 year old Saba who elopes with a man who her family disapproves. Saba was attacked by her father and her uncles, beaten, shot and thrown into the river bundled in a burlap sack. By luck the bullet narrowly escaped her face and she prevailed by clinging to the bushes and pulling herself out of the water.
Saba, the victim is eager to pursue a conviction against her assailants but yields to family pressure and relinquishes her quest. But Obaid Chinoy wants to change that and the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has promised to address this issue via legislation.
Honor killings is a hot topic in Pakistan. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says: “more than 500 women and men have died in honor killings in 2015, making this a significant issue" and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “vows to remove the stain of honor killings.”
“Karo-Kari” is an act of murder precipitated by what is perceived by patriarchal Pakistani traditions as immoral acts of behavior. This can take several forms including submitting to marriage, a wife demanding a divorce, flirting or being raped. The toll is high for the women involved. In many cases, just accusations alone can ruin a family’s honor and often results in the death of the accused woman.
In many patriarchal cultures, a strict honor code for women is mandatory. Women are expected to adhere to strict codes of conduct which are consistent with women’s pride and honor – but also her status as property. Many women in patriarchal cultures reject these ideas, and want to choose or even approve of the husband picked for them by their families. They often pay a steep price for their rebellion in traditional families and societies.
More liberal and educated women chafe against the concepts of “women viewed as property and family honor,” which are deeply embedded in the more political, social and economic milieu of traditional societies like Pakistan. But progressive forces often lack voice – so having Obaid-Chinoy up for an Oscar is powerful. Indeed, her latest provocative film on honor killings encouraged Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to rise to the defense of women subjected to the Neanderthal practice of honor killings in traditional cultures.
One of the challenges is that it is difficult to track the statistics on honor killings.The government mostly ignores women being killed and maimed by their families. Legal and religious values respecting women are often subsumed in Pakistan’s cultural norms.
But it is not just women who pay the price – it is both men and women who reject the idea that families control their choices.
From 1998-2004, 4000 honor killings were reported, 2/3 women and 1/3 men. In 2003, 1261 women were murdered. In 2011, 720 honor killings took place, 605 women & 115 men. These are almost certainly undercounts.
One of the most tragic and unforgettable incidences took place in the law office of reknowned activist women lawyers, Asma Jehangir and Hina Jilani in 1999 where one of their clients, Samia Sarwar, was murdered by her family in their law office.This real but unfortunate story was highlighted in a BBC documentary, “License to Kill.”
Legally, however, Pakistani women are viewed as being within the bounds of personhood, autonomy and independence. In 2006, a bill was passed to strengthen the law against “Honor Killings.” However, refusing marriage, seeking a divorce or being a rape victim could still result in an honor killing for a Pakistani woman – or the man she loves.
On Oscar night, tune into the documentary awards and root for “A Girl in the River” and Obaid-Chinoy.
We wish her good luck and hope that she secures another significant award at the 2016 Oscar ceremony Sunday night. And we wish the Oscars would find more opportunities to spotlight artistic bravery like this.