What the Oscar means for Pakistan and Iran

Published: February 29, 2012
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For some it may just be the recognition for their talent, but for a few the Oscars transcends beyond a personal gain and is a matter of national pride. PHOTO: REUTERS

When the name Asghar Farhadi was called out as the winner of the prestigious award in the category for Best Foreign Language Film, for his film ‘A separation’, I immediately texted my best friend, who happens to be Iranian, congratulating her, while doing a little dance of happiness for a fellow Muslim country’s achievement. Many of my Muslim friends also updated their statuses, even though they were not Iranians.

However, when Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s name was called for Pakistan, in the category Best Documentary, Short Subject for her film “Saving Face”, my entire Facebook feed flooded with updates from Pakistanis across the globe, who were cheering with joy. I can only imagine how many other Iranians or Pakistanis across the globe relished in these victories – my heart was definitely jumping with joy on both counts.

To many, the Oscar represents an elite award, much anticipated as a night to see many of your favourite stars dressed in the fanciest of garbs. It is the highest level of excellence achieved by professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers. Year after year, we see big names getting nominated and winning for their performances, but the categories for foreign film, documentary, debut film, and short film come as an opening door for many aspiring artists.

For some it may just be the recognition of their talent, but for a few the Oscars transcend beyond a personal gain and are a matter of national pride. For nations like Iran and Pakistan, this opportunity has meant a new beginning, a reason to hold up your head high amidst very bleak political turmoil.

Pakistan and Iran have shared a long history of friendship, but also similar fates in their share of media negative limelight in the recent past. Ironically enough, both countries also shared a moment of great pride at Oscar night.

Pakistan is dealing with issues on many fronts, from issues of national security, terrorism, the energy crisis and to the very suspicious discovery of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan’s very backyard. Needless to say, Pakistan does not have the honour of having the best reputation on the global front. Sharmeen’s win comes as not just a matter of national pride, but also as much needed relief for Pakistanis who are having difficulty feeling proud of their country.

The film documents the journey of a British plastic surgeon who tries to repair the horrific damage done to women’s faces with acid by vindictive or jealous husbands. Although the subject matter of the documentary brings to the forefront a deep, dark and harrowing part of the fabric of Pakistani society and showcases the ugly face of the patriarchy that damages the lives of many Pakistani women, Sharmeen’s film also focuses on the courageous lawyers and legislators who introduced a strict law last year that mandates a life sentence of life for those convicted. In this way, the Oscar is a symbolic win for all those working to eliminate this heinous act.

Sharmeen hopes her Oscar will inspire other Pakistani film-makers.

“This shows that someone from their ranks can do it” she said

The story of the documentary itself symbolises the perseverant nature of Pakistanis and the very history of Pakistan and provides hopes to desperate Pakistanis all around the world that we will survive even with the odds piling up against us.

Similarly, when Iran’s Farhadi came up to receive the Oscar, every Iranian probably screamed with joy because Iran’s name was finally in the media for something other than oil sanctions or its nuclear program. Farhadi capitalised the opportunity in his speech and said what every Iranian wanted him to say:

At this time, many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy. At the 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.

It gave a much needed breath of fresh air to the people of Iran and sent a message to the global community that Iran, too, is a talented country that has a lot to offer.

Farhadi’s win couldn’t have come at a better time; Iranian cinema is facing a brutal crack down by its government. The House of Cinema, an independent guild that supports filmmakers, was shut down in early January by the government, who claim that the guild does not have the correct paperwork to operate. However, the reality is that some conservative media outlets had bashed the guild and claimed it was a front for foreign plots. Farhadi’s win will hopefully thwart these unnecessary attempts to silence the brilliant voices of Iran and send a message of hope to those aspiring film-makers to continue doing their work.

Both Farhadi’s and Sharmeen’s wins bring hope to the many talented and aspiring filmmakers, artists, activists, writers and many others to dream the big dream, and to not let the tainted image of their countries be a deterrent to achieving their dreams. Their victory sends the message that by doing the work that you love, you too could rise to the top echelons and contribute towards dispelling negative stereotypes . All Iranians and Pakistanis should be proud of their heritage and continue to celebrate the works of such great talent and not lose hope against adversity, because good work seldom goes unnoticed.

Here is a hearty congratulation to both these film-makers and the people of the Republic of Iran and Pakistan. I hope both these countries will rise against the negativity and prosper as great nations.

This post originally appeared here.

Maheen Nusrat

Maheen Nusrat

A Pakistani-Canadian currently residing in Jersey City with a degree in Communications. She blogs at fieryfury.wordpress.com.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.