Much has been written about the 84th annual Academy Awards ceremony, which took place last weekend, and how the majority of the show was not particularly good for women or people of color. But it wasn’t all bad. In fact, there were some wonderful, important moments for women during the evening, and considering how much of the dialogue surrounding the Academy Awards is focusing on the lack of recognition for women, I would like to take some time to focus on a moment when women’s issues took center stage.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Daniel Junge won the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) for their film Saving Face. Saving Face tells the story of two Pakistani women who have survived acid attacks by their husbands and the lengths to which one plastic surgeon has gone to help these women recover from their attacks. The award on its own is significant, as it is the first Oscar a Pakistani film has ever received. But it also represents a victory for Pakistani women, whose voices and experiences are now being recognized on a massive scale.
Over 100 acid attacks take place in Pakistan every year, and most of the victims are women. A week before the Oscars, four girls were attacked with acid in Faisalabad. This is a critical issue that deserves international attention, and Saving Face‘s award is helping to raise such awareness.
The question now is, how will Saving Face‘s Oscar be able to leverage the change Pakistani women need? Though more people are thinking about and talking about acid attacks this week than they were last week, Hashim bin Rashid at Pakistan Today points out why activists should not be so quick to celebrate:
“Acid attacks brought Pakistan recognition. A toast is due,” as crude as it sounds, is what those celebrating are saying. The real celebration will come when PTV decides to air the documentary and Radio Pakistan decides to run its voice over.
Rashid is right to point out that, on its own, a golden statue bestowed by a group of elderly white men is not going to bring about change for women in Pakistan. Obaid-Chinoy has made a film that has now received international recognition, but the conversation cannot stop there. The next step, as Rashid mentions, is for media outlets in Pakistan to broadcast and promote the film and talk about acid attacks critically and directly.
Still, there is something to be said for the huge amount of attention Saving Face has received in the past week. As a writer for GAB, I read and think about global women’s issues regularly, but the horrifying phenomenon of acid attacks is not something that I knew much about before this week. The fact that people are not only discussing the film’s win but also the film’s content suggests to me that the film may be able to raise international awareness about an issue that otherwise would not receive much coverage. The more people who hear about and discuss the issues in Saving Face, the sooner we will be able to have a global discussion about acid attacks and ways to prevent them.
I am also glad that a film directed by a woman received an award this year. In recent years, Best Documentary (Short Subject) has been a particularly hospitable category for women-directed films about women (2009 winner Smile Pinki, directed by Megan Mylan, and 2008 winner Freeheld, directed by Cynthia Wade, specifically come to mind). These films may not be the most glamorous or attention-grabbing Oscar winners, but they are critically important films that tell women’s stories through women’s voices. I only wish that the rest of the Oscar nominations and winners reflected the diversity within this particular category.
Watching Obaid-Chinoy accept the Oscar was one of my favorite moments of the telecast. In her acceptance speech, Obaid-Chinoy declared:
To all the women in Pakistan who are working for change, don’t give up on your dreams — this is for you.
Her words were succinct and direct, but they may have been the most heartfelt and sincere of any of the night’s acceptance speeches. There is still a long way to go in the fight to end acid attacks, but Obaid-Chinoy is raising awareness and opening a discussion about them with her film, and I am glad that both she and the film are earning their deserved recognition.
Saving Face premieres on HBO next Thursday. Hopefully the film will continue to receive exposure and raise awareness around the world, both within and outside of Pakistan.
What are your thoughts about Saving Face and its Oscar win? Do you think the film and its award will have an impact on acid attacks in Pakistan and elsewhere?