The Breadwinner offers a window into a world few viewers have known.
The Breadwinner, nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2018 Academy Awards, certainly cracks our list of films every millennial should see. Here’s why.
What is The Breadwinner about?
The year is 2001. The place, Kabul, Afghanistan. The young girl Parvana watches her world fall apart. Taliban members take her war-crippled father to prison. She sees a man beat her mother when she tries to visit him.
With no male family member to escort them, cultural institutions do not allow Parvana, her mother, and her sister to buy food in the marketplace. They cannot safely leave their house.
Parvana therefore does what many girls in the region have been forced to do. She cuts her hair, dresses in her late brother’s clothing, and goes to work.
What makes The Breadwinner so powerful?
When you think of the Middle East, or Islam, or Arabic speaking peoples (although Arabic is not the national language of Afghanistan; the most widely spoken are Pashto and Dari), what comes to mind? Really think about this question, and be honest with yourself. You would not be alone if your answers reveal some level of implicit bias.
In the United States, for example, news reports featuring these demographics often center on religious extremism, terrorism, and danger. This can rub off on the news’ consumers, until large chunks of society see an entire people as a threat rather than what they are – people.
Consider an example. While at university, I attended a round table discussion based on a book called The Sunflower. We covered the Holocaust, Japanese internment in the United States, and the Islamaphobia so prevalent at the time. One political-science major asserted, “When I look at the flight roster before I take a trip and see an Arabic-sounding name, I get a little worried.” The other students gasped in surprise. One pointed and said, “You’re prejudiced!”
“We must raise our hearts, not our voices. It is rain that makes the flowers grow, not thunder.” – Parvana, The Breadwinner
While movies can incite such stereotyping, they can also restrain it by creating empathy towards those of distant cultures. The Breadwinner aims to do just that. After viewing The Breadwinner for the first time, a think tank of millennials ranging in age from eighteen to their mid-thirties had a lot to say.
One university student commented, “Compared to The Kite Runner, this is like kindergarten.” What did she mean? The Breadwinner introduced the group to the culture of Afghanistan, but did so in an easily digestible format. The Disney-style violence – off-screen for the most part – combined with a fairly happy ending, made the film palatable to viewers. Yet, it still introduced concepts such as discrimination against women, honor killings, and a justice system different from our own.
One twenty-five year old YouTuber further stated, “I don’t think we should hold it against millennials when they don’t know something. If they’ve grown up sheltered and with so many comforts, they can’t help that – that’s the way they were raised. But as adults, it’s our responsibility to become informed and understand our world.”
Is The Breadwinner Accurate?
You may wonder, is The Breadwinner accurate enough to inform? Mina Sharifi, who aided in the production of the Oscar-nominated The Buzkashi Boys (2012), had this to say: “The clothing, the food, the family atmosphere, even the cane that the grandfather carried was carved and looked just like it was from here. I haven’t seen another film on Afghanistan that takes the time to do that.”
When The Breadwinner was in the running for an Oscar in 2018, the film had not yet been screened in commercial theaters in Afghanistan. A small group of women were able to view the film in the Canadian embassy in Kabul. This is the same city where the story takes place. How did Afghans receive the film?
Abdul Rahim Ahmad Parwani of the educational support organization Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, described the event to NPR. “After the movie was over and the lights were turned back on, I saw tears in the eyes of many Afghans…There was a short uncalled-for silence at the end of the film. That itself explains how the movie connected with Afghans.”
If you enjoyed this, check out our review of the phenomenal ‘Loving Vincent’.