Tonight at 8:30 EST, HBO will be airing an Oscar-winning documentary entitled Saving Face. The 40-minute film is about how Dr. Mohammad Jawad, a British-Pakistani plastic surgeon, travels to his country of origin to perform facial reconstructive surgery on women who are victims of acid attacks (warning: graphic images).

When I first heard of the film, I was duly skeptical.

Many films, whether fictional and documentary, that deal with the Indian subcontinent tend towards the condescending and fetishizing at best and demonizing and alarmist at the worst. The well-meaning ones tend to center around a white protagonist who saves the brown people people from themselves (and this trope is not limited to the Indian subcontinent). Others are all about a white person who finds his or her self through a magical journey in an exotic land or a person from said exotic land (I’m looking at you, Eat, Pray, Love). Even the ones that center around a non-white protagonist tend to other him or her.

What gives me hope that Saving Face is not like this is the fact that it was filmed by a Pakistani woman, who is now the very first Pakistani to have won an Oscar. Additionally, the doctor who is helping the women is of Pakistani descent.

What also struck me as different was the way in which the documentary’s trailer was cut.

At 0:51, the woman says that she’s happy and thanks Allah for the opportunity she has had to get the surgery. Religion is a big part of life for Pakistani women, and her reference to the Islamic deity makes me think that the documentary is going to examine the complexities of religion and culture instead of demonizing anything non-Western.

While I firmly believe that the patriarchy so deeply ingrained in Islam hurts the fight against gender-based violence in Muslim-dominant countries, I also acknowledge the reality that most Muslims are going to stay Muslims, and that it can help to reframe religion in working for change in Muslim countries. Acid attacks are far from condoned by Islam and if referring to theological arguments against them prevents more acid attacks from occurring, then from a practical perspective, I’m all for it.

All is not perfect, of course. Those involved with the film fear that the Oscar win and publicity might hurt the women who are the subjects of the documentary. However, if the trailer in any indication, this is a major step forward in terms of both the fight against acid attacks and for agency in story-telling for non-white people trying to bring about change from within their communities.

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Previous post

Skepchick Quickies 3.8

Next post

Open Source Drug Discovery

5 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Otoki
    March 8, 2012 at 12:05 pm —

    DO NOT read the comment section in the first link if you value your sanity.

    I think that you are right about Islam being a potential force for good in this. Christianity was used as a way to justify slavery, yet it was also used as a reason to fight for abolition later on. Religion is what people make of it to an extent, and I hope that these women get something like justice and more leaders, religious and otherwise, fight against such practices.

  2. Profile photo of Otoki
    March 8, 2012 at 12:05 pm —

    DO NOT read the comment section in the first link if you value your sanity.

    I think that you are right about Islam being a potential force for good in this. Christianity was used as a way to justify slavery, yet it was also used as a reason to fight for abolition later on. Religion is what people make of it to an extent, and I hope that these women get something like justice and more leaders, religious and otherwise, fight against such practices.

  3. Profile photo of scribe999
    March 8, 2012 at 4:46 pm —

    yeah, first thing’s first…stop acid attacks.

  4. Profile photo of defectivebrayne
    March 9, 2012 at 9:49 am —

    I worked (very) briefly in a hospital in bangladesh, and I accidentally stumbled into the acid burns unit.
    I didn’t know what I was seeing at first. Why were there so many people with acid burns, and why were they mostly women ?
    When it was explained to me, I was dumbfounded. People trying to escape forced marriages, or who have jealous husbands. Or even having the temerity to be mildly attractive and not show an interest in the psychopath with access to battery acid.
    And the perpetrators often would get away with it, at most getting fined.
    It’s a cruel injustice, and needs more people talking about it if any change is going to happen.

  5. Profile photo of rajaa
    March 10, 2012 at 7:36 pm —

    It is one of the ugliest manifestations of male dominated societies. It is an act of violence that has its deepest roots in the culture and how women are perceived as inferior to men and thus are not expected to have an opposing stand to what the society or the males they are associated with expect of them. Such criminal acts will continue as long as social norms outweigh laws.

Add Comment Register



Leave a reply