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/

Iran’s first Oscar

Perhaps I should have gone to see “The Artist” Saturday night. After all, it won the Oscar for best picture last night. But I saw “A Separation” instead.

It was an incredibly well-acted film dealing with a broken marriage that weaves trouble through the lives of ordinary people. It is about class divisions, family relationships, the power of religion and hope in every heart for a better life.

Only this film is Iranian. Set in Tehran, Westerners got a rare glimpse into the living rooms of Iranians dealing with the same kinds of problems we find at home, save the far-reaching tentacles of the Islamic regime.

Iranians stayed up late to watch the Oscars on illegal satellite feeds, enormously proud of the first Iranian film to win an Oscar (best foreign language film).

The timing could not have been better, I thought, as director Asghar Farhadi held up his golden statue. “At a time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics,” he said.

I read this morning that even Israelis were flocking to see “A Separation.” Iranians are their arch-enemies and bellicose talk of late has led to speculation that Israel may launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran to stop its nuclear progress.

But ultimately, Israelis saw in the movie Iranians who were just like themselves. That spoke volumes for the universality of “A Separation.” People everywhere ultimately cope with the same problems — the ones that make us not American or Israeli or Iranian, but the ones that make us human.

“A Separation” is not always easy to watch. It was especially hard for me to look at the scenes of a man stricken with Alzheimer’s. I could see my own Baba.

But if you have not seen this movie, go soon to a theater near you. Ayatollahs and nuclear bombs aside, Iran has delivered a rare gem.

“A Separation” supplies no answers and is subtitled: “The Truth Divides.” But Iran is a country that remains largely unknown to Americans. Farhadi’s film, I believe, takes a few of the veils off.

The Hurt Locker: Ouch


I’ll be watching the Oscars on Sunday night, though this year, I am not as excited as I usually am. I’ve only seen two of the movies nominated for best picture: Up in the Air and The Hurt Locker.

The former is an entertaining movie even though George Clooney is George Clooney solely because he looks like George Clooney and not because of any Oscar-worthy talent.

The latter had the makings of a great movie, but the director lost me on the very first scene when the words “Baghdad 2004” flashed on screen and American soldiers were seen wearing the digital green combat uniforms. Those uniforms, of course, were not issued until May 2005. I know this because I was embedded with the 48th Infantry Brigade, the first unit to receive the re-engineered fatigues.

The camera panned wide to show a neighborhood in Baghdad that I instantly recognized as Amman, Jordan. There are no rolling hills in the Iraqi capital.

From there, other inaccuracies skewed my judgment of good filmmaking. I thought director Kathryn Bigelow perfectly captured the tension and adrenaline rush that goes with war, specifically with the job of a bomb detection specialist. But the lead character, played by Jeremy Renner, is too much of a cowboy. There’s no way an EOD team leader would be able to run through the streets of Baghdad in a t-shirt and cammos and make it back to the gates of Camp Liberty and be allowed in without stern questioning and punishment. There’s no way, a lone Humvee would leave the gates without a convoy and find itself way out in the Iraqi desert in a showdown with snipers.

My soldier friends agree with me that The Hurt Locker is rife with errors. So do a lot of EOD veterans who have been interviewed by various media outlets including my own, CNN.

I realize that the movie is a work of fiction. But the Iraq war is so fresh that I felt the film lost credibility by not getting things right. It wouldn’t have taken much to correct those errors.

So while The Hurt Locker beautifully captures the addiction to war and what happens to soldiers who return to lives that seem mundane, the movie missed the mark with me.

I cannot hope that it trumps its contenders Sunday night. For the sake of truth. That’s just the journalist in me, I suppose.