When Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy became the first Pakistani to win an Oscar for her documentary Saving Face, she dedicated her award to all the women of Pakistan for their bravery. But this is a victory that can be enjoyed by the entire country. In the days and months ahead, she will undoubtedly be felicitated for her achievement and may even end up becoming the face of a more liberal and tolerant Pakistan. Hopefully, along with all the joy that accompanies this Oscar win, there will also be some soul-searching and reflection. Saving Face dealt compassionately with the plight of women who are acid victims and, among the kudos given to the film-maker, the strength and courage of these women should not be forgotten. For them to narrate their ordeals on camera with such unflinching honesty makes them, even more so than those who worked on the documentary, the true heroes of Saving Face.
There are those who will bemoan the fact that Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary will further reinforce the Western narrative of Pakistan as a backward country that violates human rights. Many may argue that the media only focuses on negative subjects and portrays the country in a stereotypically depressing fashion. However, it is not her duty as a film-maker to project a sanitised image of the country. When she made Saving Face, she was choosing to concentrate on a subject matter that was dear to her heart and it is not the job of a documentary film-maker to be a propagandist on behalf of her country. Though she was not associated with the local film industry, her win will be a boost for film-makers throughout Pakistan as it shows the talent that is present here. We now know it is possible to receive international attention for quality work. Apart from the honour Ms Obaid-Chinoy has received, she has also had a burden placed on her. Unlike politicians in our country who spend billions to improve Pakistan’s image in the international community, she has done so by her talent and hard work. From now on she will be looked on as a pioneer that others will be seeking to emulate. Everything that we have seen of her shows that this is a person who will handle that responsibility with grace and humility. Congratulations, Sharmeen! This nation is proud of you.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2012.