Saving Face: Beyond The Conventional Significance of the Oscar

On Monday 27th February 2012, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy won Pakistan its first Oscar for her documentary-film ‘Saving Face’.

For a country that is virtually a pariah state, a nation which has, since the last decade, only occasionally been conferred reasons of rejoicing or relief, and is terribly misconceived, known for nothing more than a people who snuggle in the tight wrap of terrorism – Sharmeen and her win, go beyond the conventional significance of the Oscar and the scope of pride and joy for Pakistan.

Her achievement, sent out a reverberating message that read; as prominent Arab Blogger Bassem Sabry put it, in regard to Iran and Pakistan’s Oscar wins:

“There is much more to these countries than just clichés of bombs and terrorism.”

As an educated, talented woman, successfully juggling her profession and family with a  balance, and with a brave and laudable attempt to bring out the subject of a repulsive and sickening practice in many parts of Pakistan; Sharmeen clearly toppled the perceptions that most hold about the country and its women.

Through her work and her speech, she overturned the generalizing stereotype that all women in Pakistan are locked up in the four walls of their houses, provided no access to education or the freedom to pursue a profession, and are forcefully draped in yards of a dull cloth, from head to toe.

For the Pakistani people, she truly shone in defining an example of representing their country: replete with poise, and with a cause.

Most importantly, her commitment and ardor to bring out the plight of the innocent and defenseless victims of acid-attacks, who are fettered to their fatalities, and elicit and raise awareness against this sickening practice in many areas of Pakistan, is wholly praiseworthy.

Contrary to the view being held by most Pakistanis, ‘Saving Face’ doesn’t only accentuate this social disease but also includes the positive aspect of hope, resilience and the possibility of a difference, all in response to this.

Sharmeen with Co-Director Daniel Junge and Dr. Jawad.

To quote Sharmeen herself:

“Saving face is a testament to the fact that ordinary people can come together to achieve extraordinary things.

The film revolves around Dr Jawad, a renowned Pakistani British plastic surgeon who has been traveling to Pakistan for the past decade to perform surgeries, free of cost for people who are unable to afford treatment. Giving back to his country, Dr Jawad was able to transform these women’s lives through his generosity and commitment.

Over the course of shooting this film, a historic bill was passed by the Pakistani parliament that strengthened the punishments awarded to perpetrators of such attacks. This law was brought into existence by testimonies of survivors and the incredible will and dedication of Marvi Memon.

Similarly, a female lawyer took up the case of Zakia, a survivor who was attacked by her husband. Offering her services pro bono, this lawyer won Zakia’s case, and her husband was given two life sentences.

So, even though “Saving Face” deals with difficult subject matter, it is infused with hope and is a telling tale of the great things that can happen when people come together.”

Although already planned before, and now propelled by international support, wide acclaim and nation-wide interest, Sharmeen will be launching a national educational campaign about Acid Violence, in March.

A 2010 article in Time mentioned:

‘Accurate statistics on acid attacks in Pakistan are hard to come by … The perpetrators are most often relatives or rivals,  sometimes for one woman’s affections, or, in non-gender-based attacks, opponents  provoked by property disputes or other disagreements.

Shahnaz Bokhari, chief coordinator and clinical  psychologist at the Progressive Women’s Association in Rawalpindi, says her  organization has counted 8,000 victims burned by acid as well as kerosene and  stoves since 1994. “And that’s just from Rawalpindi, Islamabad and a 200-mile  radius. I am not talking about in Pakistan [as a whole],” she says. Activists believe that only some 30% of acid cases are reported.

Acid is a  readily available and inexpensive weapon; it costs less than a dollar a liter  and is often used for household cleaning or for cotton processing in rural  areas.’

One hopes that Sharmeen is as fortunate she has been in being rewarded the most prestigious of awards for her efforts, she will be as lucky in the accomplishment of her aim of changing peoples’ mindsets towards this physically, mentally, emotionally and psychologically jarring barbarity, and moving them into action in opposition to this. And that Pakistanis will react to this, with the same zeal with which they celebrated the Oscar for it.

As the ‘Saving Face’ website states in their ‘Mission’:

‘Our goal is to leverage Saving Face as a pivotal tool in the campaign to end acid violence in Pakistan and beyond. As Co-Director Daniel Junge expressed, “the film must be more than an expose of horrendous crimes — it must be a recipe for addressing the problem and a hope for the future.”

Saving Face is uniquely positioned to advance awareness, education and prevention efforts.’

At the end, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy needs to be hailed once again. For being an outstanding representative of the Pakistani people, their capacity to attain great heights and their goals, their strength and their capabilities – especially Pakistani women.

Columnist Huma Yusuf writes in her article for the International Herald Tribune:

For once, Pakistan is making headlines for a positive achievement, not another terrorist attack, political squabble or natural disaster.

For Pakistanis who have been struggling to restore their country’s flailing image, it’s a relief to see a talented, young Pakistani woman receiving a coveted international award.’

  For showing that there is, a Pakistan, apart from the picture that majority across the globe, holds of it.

For chosing to cast light upon a cruelty and the healing of its scars, by the existence of hope and better likelihoods.

For raising this forlorn nation out of its abyss of dejection, even if for just a little time.

Thank you Sharmeen!

~ Hafsa Khawaja