Moment of desi pride at the Oscars

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Lost in the diversity controversy at the Oscars Sunday night was this: The only woman of color who won was Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.

Who? That’s the problem. Very few people in America know who she is. But they ought to.

Obaid-Chinoy, 37, has two Academy Awards to her name; her latest was in the best documentary short category  for “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, a haunting  portrayal of honor killings in Obaid-Chinoy’s ancestral Pakistan.

The film tells the story of Saba, 19, who is beaten, shot and tossed into a river because she eloped with a man her family rejected. Saba is a rare survivor of honor violence and Obaid-Chinoy’s film explores in the bleakest way the physical and emotional pain that so many women in that part of the world suffer.

“She wanted her story told,” Obaid-Chinoy said in a CBCinterview. “The impact of her story is tremendous, because it is going to change lives, and it’s going to save lives, and there can be no greater reward than that.”

Obaid-Chinoy, a journalist turned documentarian, has focused her life’s work on social justice and feels compelled to expose wrongdoing in her homeland. Because, she says, it doesn’t have to be that way.

“A Girl in the River” prompted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to pledge that he would change a barbaric law that lets perpetrators of honor crimes go unprosecuted.

“”This is what happens when determined women get together,”  she said with her golden statue in hand. “This week, the Pakistani prime minister has said that he will change the law on honor killing after watching this film. That is the power of film.”

Obaid-Chinoy dedicated her accolade to Saba and to all the women who helped her make the film and also to the men who champion women.

Obaid-Chinoy’s acceptance speech was the most powerful Sunday night, though, ironically, it got drowned by the noise of diversity jokes and the buzz over Leo.

But she was the real stuff. Here was a brown Muslim woman totally rockin’ it. She hails from a part of the world where the most barbaric practices against women still exist, and that made Obaid-Chinoy’s win even more worthwhile.

Go, Sharmeen, I yelled in front of the TV. You make desi women proud.

Check out her work here: http://sharmeenobaidfilms.com/

Honoring Gayle


This year, the Religion Newswriters Association chose my friend Gayle White as its lifetime achievement award recipient. I cannot think of anyone who deserves this honor more.

The ceremony in Minneapolis Saturday night was even more poignant for the both of us because Gayle and I were among almost 100 journalists who left the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in its latest round of buyouts and layoffs last May.

Gayle worked at the paper 37 long years. She spent 16 of them covering the religion beat. She reported each story in depth and detail. Her writing was elegant and mellifluous. She taught me the power of ordinary stories told in extraordinary ways.

Gayle was the best at her craft and yet she never exhibited the arrogance that overtakes some award-winning journalists. She remained modest and humble to her last day and approached every story she wrote with the same enthusiasm she had when she started out in the business all those years ago.

Gayle’s husband, Bob, died of cancer two years ago. She endured the most painful experience of her life with the same perseverance and grace that made her such an incredible reporter.

I had the privilege of sitting next to Gayle for the last five years I was at the AJC. If there is one thing I miss about going to work at 72 Marietta Street every day, it’s seeing Gayle’s smile first thing in the morning.