Why do Pakistanis cheer Brandon Stanton, but attack Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy?

Published: March 7, 2016

No one accused Brandon Stanton of being out to defame Pakistan. No one accused Brandon Stanton of being an agent funded by nefarious organisations. No one accused Brandon Stanton of trying to earn ‘cheap fame’.

Like so many in Pakistan, I was pleased when American photo-blogger Brandon Stanton, founder of Humans of New York, visited the country to tell the stories of every day Pakistanis. As with his other excellent work, Brandon shared some moving tales, creating empathy as only he can.

At the end of his Pakistan series, Brandon moved on to a despicable social ill of Pakistan: Bonded Labour, which is used to victimise thousands of Pakistanis and has been described as modern day slavery by the United Nations.

Like any good journalist, Brandon highlighted the issue by sharing several heart-breaking stories alongside striking photos while relating some worrying statistics about the depth of the problem in Pakistan. At the core of Brandon’s narration was activist Syeda Ghulam Fatima, who despite facing torture and threats has championed the cause of the victims.

As a result of Brandon’s work, the issue earned international coverage.

Twelve hours after the story went live, a million dollars were donated to the website ‘Let’s Help Fatima End Bonded Labour.’

In 72 hours, the figure stood at two million.

Aside from the international followers of Humans of New York, countless Pakistanis followed the series, and were full of praise. Every Pakistani thanked Brandon and commended him for showing the humanity of their countrymen. Others still praised the American for raising awareness on a critical issue that plagues Pakistan.

Some took the opportunity to deliver swipes at Pakistani journalists for not covering the same issues, or telling similarly feel-good stories, as did Brandon early on in his series on Pakistan.

Never mind the fact that a vast number of local journalists do write similar stories, but readers are simply not as interested in reading them in our leading papers. Never mind the fact that it took a popular Facebook page for Pakistanis to care about an impoverished blind man on the street when they pass dozens of such people every day. Never mind the fact that bonded labour is brought up on numerous occasions in our media, is a decades old issue, and only now held significance for our keyboard warriors.

No one accused Brandon Stanton of being out to defame Pakistan. No one accused Brandon Stanton of being an agent funded by nefarious organisations. No one accused Brandon Stanton of trying to earn ‘cheap fame’.

No, unfortunately, we save these ridiculous allegations for our own.

For the second time, Pakistani documentarian Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy has earned an Academy Award for a film that brings international focus on a frighteningly widespread issue within the country. Her first documentary, Saving Face, focused on victims of acid attacks. This second one explores the depravity of honour killings.

Similarly to Brandon, Sharmeen’s work hasn’t taken long to affect change. The Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, inspired by the documentary has begun taking some meaningful steps against honour killings.

I suppose there is a joke here that our government is now waiting for international award winning films on bonded labour, poverty, corruption, child marriages, rape, bacha bazi, and more, before taking those issues seriously as well.

But let’s be fair to the Prime Minister. In a nation where religious extremism is spreading like a virus, he is to be commended for taking a stand that is controversial to the right-wingers. Because Sharia Law allows families of victims to forgive murderers through ‘blood money’, brothers, fathers, husbands, and uncles take advantage when they want to murder women in their own family. Ultimately, they have their co-conspirators ‘forgive’ them since they are family. According to Aurat Foundation, over a 1000 women every year are killed in Pakistan under the guise of honour.

If Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy manages to save only a handful of these lives through her documentary then she has done more than most of us. She deserves an Academy Award for not only covering such a prickly subject, but for her skills as a filmmaker.

But for our keyboard warriors, she is a villain who has defamed Pakistan, possibly because she is on the payroll of evil governments, or is just seeking ‘cheap fame’.

I love that term, cheap fame. Our keyboard warriors love throwing it around, as if fame is as important to Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy as water is to a man crawling across the parched desert. If anything, this fame hasn’t come cheaply. Perhaps the most expensive cost for the documentarian has been the risk to her own life.

Interestingly enough, these accusations weren’t hurled at poor Brandon Stanton, may he return to Pakistan soon. No, such venom is reserved for people such as Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Malala Yousufzai, and others.

Perhaps they are the wrong skin colour for our keyboard warriors. Perhaps they are the wrong gender.

I suppose the greatest irony of it all is that Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is supposed to shut up about honour killings to protect our honour.

Where is the honour in that?

This is the same sort of warped thinking that leads to honour killings in the first place, where shame is so toxic, it out values life-affecting action.

It is a pity that shame is used in Pakistani society as an invisible chain to shackle women.

The misuse of honour was killing women. The misuse of honour is now being used to shame the heroes who come to their aid.

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

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

  • Parvez

    Always good to read you.
    You ask why ?……the short answer is that when ever one of our fellow countrymen aspire to rise above the rest, we are programmed at birth to pull him down and if its a her we pull even harder.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Because they are hypocritesRecommend

  • Fahimuddin

    I am certain that 99.9 percent Pakistani don’t know about that blond guy. But I am certain that 30-50 million Pakistanis do know about Sharmeen due to heavy media coverage. No comparison and bad data analysis.

    Another bad comparison as the blond guy showed good and bad parts of our society while Sharmeen only showed bad parts. So compare with any guy who shows bad part of our society only like Richard Dawkins or Bill Maher. Then ask do Pakistanis love any such guyRecommend

  • Usman Khan

    I will tell you why people are not convinced by Sharmeen. its because of the controversy she was involved in after her first movie where she allegedly didn’t pay the victime or something. I don’t remember the whole story. While Brandon on the other hand was clear of all controversies. That controversies left a stain on her reputation. As they say first impression is the last impression and Sharmeen’s first impression was tainted. Other than that she did a fine job.Recommend

  • Anwaar

    even after her showing of bad parts, You and I both did nothing to to ACTUALLY stop that bad thing BUT we started criticizing Sharmeen cuz thats the easy thing to do … its hard to go out there and find people who really need help and share their stories ….Recommend

  • Anwaar

    lets put it this way .. if we think that Sharmeen shows the bad side of Pakistan to get an Oscar , then lets try to eradicate that bad side so that she doesn’t have the chance to tarnish Pak’s image :) .. (or get an Oscar :P) ..

    But No, we won’t do that cuz its not easy to leave my soft bed and laptop/wifi and actually do something worthwhile …Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    If you take a moment to research, you can find the tons of amazing work she has done locally for Pakistan. She also directed Pakistan’s first animated silver screen film, which was the highest grossing animated film in the country, beating all international animated films, including offerings from Pixar and Disney.

    Also, we are talking about the people on the internet.

    50 million Pakistanis are not connected to the internet.Recommend

  • Sunny

    People believe that she is like another Malala,
    getting along with the west in negative potrail of country.

    Both might have good intentions,
    but there is also no doubt that
    they knowingly played in the hands of people
    who just want to show worst side of Pakistan.

    About Brandon Stanton vs Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy,
    the guy’s Pakistan visit did not got any coverage on main stream western media,
    none of the western dignitaries issued statements encouraging his visits here.
    Where as we regularly get to see Chinoy being interviewed Amanpour on CNN
    or by some other well known anchor person on BBC.

    That said its in human nature to just focus on good things about them,
    no one actually like anyone who they believe to be criticizing for sake of criticism,
    without any good intention to bring any positive change.Recommend

  • Sunny

    That’s the point,
    she might have done some thing that presents positive image of Pakistan
    but the mainstream western media only seems to acknowledge the negative side.

    Just like Brandon showed good and bad parts of our society
    but if go to any mainstream western media site and search for “Brandon Stanton” the only news of his Pakistan visit you find is related to “bonded brick workers”. I am not sure if most Pakistanis consider that the best representation.

    Just try writing some thing on what happened with native Americans or Australians and you’ll get to see for your self what happens…Recommend

  • Patwari

    Agree with you, once again. Must be in the DNA.
    Mullahs must be gnashing their teeth. Biting each
    other, in their frenzy. Hate frenzy against women.Recommend

  • Fahimuddin

    Seems you got fired up with my comment, well any how you should have mentioned in your article that what work she has done to show good aspects of our society to make a balanced article.Recommend

  • Pakistani

    Fantastic, totally true article. Thank you! Recommend

  • Sunny

    Yup, unfortunately you are right,
    but the thing here is about the double standards,
    west loves to acknowledge people that show ugly parts of east,
    yet hate to acknowledge wrong doings carried out by them.

    How many Nobels or Oscars have been awarded to documentaries on what happened with native Americans or Australians, Atrocities carried out in colonial era all over the world, dropping of atomic bomb, wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and the list goes on and on …..Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    so this same author says Pakistanis hate kaafirs but now hes saying Pakistanis love kaafirs.

    I failt to get the confused brain of a fake liberal.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Far far more has been written and presented on these issues.And what is positive to present in honor killing.The trouble is misogynist world-view of Pakistani society.Recommend

  • siesmann


  • http://peacequarters.com M Taha Alam

    Lol Nice Article!

    Saw the same discussion here:


  • siesmann

    It is the Mullahoid hold on Pakistani society,that anything to do with women is always opposed.On the other hand it is Mullahoid hold on all aspects of Pakistani society.Recommend

  • Sunny

    Really !

    Great I’ll love to watch them.

    Can you please list such Oscars awarded documentaries on what happened with native Americans or Australians, Atrocities carried out in colonial era all over the world, dropping of atomic bomb, wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria

    BTW by positive I meant the good things we have,
    its not all doom and gloom here.Recommend

  • Hameed

    Christians didn’t create a hoopla about “negative” image around the film spotlight. Spotlight won the Oscar. Get it. Its not political at all. Awards are given on votes (anonymous votes). Such useless argumentsRecommend

  • Hameed

    A woman from pakistan making a documentary is a positive image in itself. Shows women in pakistan are not backward as the stereotype goes and women are fighting to right the wrongs against them.Recommend

  • Hameed

    “West” also acknowledged the film Spotlight. They are not as twisted as we are.Recommend

  • Irony

    This coming from “liberal” that believes honor killings don’t happen because it hasn’t happened in her social circle. Talk about irony.Recommend

  • Hameed

    You said it, brother.Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    I’m sorry, how does your point relate to what I said? Please read carefully before posting silly remarks.Recommend

  • gp65

    Please watch 12 years as a slave.Recommend

  • gp65

    Well the Oscar platform was used to open a discussion about lack of diversity and opportunity in Hollywood films. The holocaust was vilified and which country do you think it happened in – Germany. Have you watched Schindler’s list or you do not think Germany is a western country? Have you watched 12 years as a Slave? Have you heard about the Occupy Wallstreet movement that points to widespread inequality in US? HAs it or has it not got a lot of media coverage? What about the Black Lives Matter? That too got a lot of media coverage.
    When negative things occur whether in west or India, media does cover it extensively but then there is also a strong civil society response to address the underlying root cause. That is what is missing in Pakistan and instead you are busy cursing those that brought the negative practice to light. For example there was a strong anti-corruption movement in 2011-2012 led by Anna Hazare that was covered extensively in press. Ordinary Indians got involved actively and did not see it as an attempt to malign India. Eventually a law was passed that over time will allow better grievance redressal to those impacted by corruption. The national elections in 2014 and the elections in Delhi also reflected widespread rejection of corruption. Similarly the terrible Nirbhaya gang rape catalyzed Indian society. IT demanded and got new laws passed on the issue of violence against women replacing outdated British era laws. No one complained that media coverage led to a bad image for India.Recommend

  • gp65

    Pakistanis hate fellow Pakistani kafirs but love goras (kafir or not) who pay attention to Pakistan. Get it? Not so confusing.Recommend