While the world watched last year as the allies, led by the Americans, left the Afghan capital of Kabul and left it to the armed Taliban movement, Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence thought about how to support the women there. In the end, she produced a documentary film about their fate, which she presented this Sunday at the festival in Cannes, France.
The 32-year-old Hollywood star, winner of the Oscar for the film Love Therapy, took her Afghan colleague and director-in-exile Sahra Mani along the red carpet. “I was afraid that everyone would forget about leaving Afghanistan. That’s why I wanted to create something that would remind us of that situation,” the American actress explains why she initiated the project.
“Jennifer’s immediate idea was to find an Afghan filmmaker and give her a platform,” adds co-producer Justine Ciarrocchi in The Hollywood Reporter magazine. The search for a suitable adept led them to the director Sahra Mani, who drew attention to herself in 2018 with the documentary A Thousand Girls Like Me. He told about an Afghan woman who was sexually abused by her father and who tried to get justice years later.
It was Sahra Mani who finally created a novelty for American women called Bread and Roses, which they now presented together in Cannes. It depicts the fate of three Afghan women after the radical Taliban movement came back to power in August 2021. It already controlled Afghanistan in the 1990s. It lost control over a significant part of the territory after the US invasion in December 2001, but now it is once again ruling the country and once again limiting the role of women in society.
While during pro-Western governments, Afghan women could hold high positions, today the Taliban prohibits them from attending high schools and universities, excludes them from most jobs and does not allow them to leave home without a male escort. Women are forced to cover their faces in public and are not allowed, for example, in spas or gyms. According to Human Rights Watch, the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan are perhaps the most restricted in the world today.
“This film conveys an important message from Afghan women: be their voice, be the voice of those who lost their voice under the Taliban dictatorship,” appealed director Sahra Mani at Cannes. “Afghan women don’t ask for much. They want to go to school and go back to work. They have dreams and stories that we wanted to tell,” she says.
Actress Jennifer Lawrence and director Sahra Mani. | Photo: ČTK / AP
According to Sahra Mani, life in Afghanistan is also increasingly risky for women today. That’s also why she took care of the safety of the three portrait subjects, who didn’t know each other. One is a refugee, the other ran an activist group from her dental office, the third worked as a clerk before the Taliban banned her.
The film follows how the situation worsens for them every day, how at one point they can neither protest nor leave the country, and they face increasingly serious threats, violence, and finally prison. The heroines are named Zahra, Taranom and Šarífa, Variety.com adds.
All three filmed themselves, sometimes via mobile phones, rarely with the help of professionals on location. The footage was sent to Sahra Mani. She saved them and continuously cut them until she created the final film from them. The director herself no longer lives in Afghanistan. She left the country shortly before the withdrawal of American and British troops, when she went to a European film festival. When she saw the Taliban retaking control, she decided to stay and today resides in French exile.
“It didn’t occur to me at the time that it was the last time I packed my suitcase at home. I still don’t remember if I closed the window properly,” Sahra Mani told the Hollywood Reporter.
According to him, all three women, about whom the film tells, are now outside the Afghan territory.
According to Variety.com, the saddest passage in the documentary is the part where elementary and middle school students wish the Taliban would disappear as soon as possible. “They know that if something doesn’t change in the next five to ten years, their lives will consist of compulsory housework, marriage and zero education. They won’t even be able to go to the park alone without an escort,” notes Variety.com.
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