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Saving the Face of Pakistani Politics


“It’s more important that the Pakistani on the stage speaks,” co-director Daniel Junge humbly remarked before stepping away from the microphone, Sunday night at the 84th Annual Academy Awards. The crowd fell to a hush as Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy stepped forward to make not only an inspiring acceptance speech, but also to make history with her now Oscar-winning film Saving Face.
Obaid-Chinoy, who was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, became the first Pakistani ever to win an Oscar when her 2011 film Saving Face won in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category on February 26, 2012. Furthermore, she was the only woman of color to win a non-acting award that night. Radiant in a cream-colored and jeweled dress, Obaid-Chinoy dedicated the award to the women of Pakistan. “To all the women working in Pakistan: this is for you! Don’t give up on your dreams,” the Pakistani film director urged as she lifted the infamous Oscar statuette into the air in a gesture of strength and solidarity.Saving Face is not Obaid-Chinoy’s first film, nor is it her first film recognized with a prestigious award. Pakistan’s Taliban Generation/Children of the Taliban, filmed in 2009, explores “how the war on terror is creating a generation of child terrorists” in Obaid-Chinoy’s homeland and won an International Emmy award in 2010. (1) Out of more than 12 films the documentarian has produced or on which she has reported, several have received other awards such as The Overseas Press Club Award, The American Women in Radio and Television Award, The Cine Golden Eagle Award and the Banff Rockie Award. (2)
What is most interesting about Obaid-Chinoy’s most recent and Oscar-winning film is that it documents a social issue that rarely gains much media attention: acid attacks on women in Pakistan. According to FirstPost.com, more than 100 people become disfigured because of acid throwing in Pakistan per year—not accounting for the number of unreported cases. (3) The majority of the victims are women and girls, often injured by jealous husbands or by families who intend to mark permanently these women for allegedly failing to uphold codes of honor. (4) Following British Pakistani plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad, who performed reconstructive surgery on the victims of acid attacks in Pakistan, Saving Facegives the women, whose lives were dramatically altered by the assaults, a chance to tell their stories and make their voices heard.
Obaid-Chinoy definitely deserves her new Oscar among other forms of laud for the far-reaching impact of her documentary; Saving Facehas provided impetus for women’s rights in Pakistan. According to the Wall Street Journal’s online blog, “In December, after intense pressure from civil rights groups, Pakistan’s Senate passed legislation that mandates a minimum 14 year jail sentence and a 1 million Pakistani rupee fine ($ 11,000) for convicted acid throwers.” (5) Clearly, Obaid-Chinoy’s film is not only saving face, but also is saving lives and inspiring a generation of women who refuse to remain silent or disfigured.

  1. “Sharmeen Obaid Films – Pakistan’s Taliban Generation.” http://sharmeenobaidfilms.com/pakistans-taliban-generation/
  2. “Sharmeen Obaid Films – Bio.” http://sharmeenobaidfilms.com/bio/
  3. “Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy gets Pakistan its first Oscar.” FirstPost.Bollywood. February 2012. http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/sharmeen-obaid-chinoys-got-pakistan-its-first-oscar-226157.html
  4. “Pakistan Oscar Spotlights Acid Attack War.” The Wall Street Journal—India Real Time blog. February 2012. http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2012/02/27/pakistan-oscar-spotlights-acid-attack-war/
  5. Ibid.
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