Journalist and documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy became Pakistan’s first Oscar winner last night when her film Saving Face won best documentary short.
Saving Face tells the story of two women (39-year-old Zakia and 23-year-old Rukhsana) who were severely disfigured after becoming victims of acid attacks. According to the film’s website:
Every year in Pakistan, at least 100 people are victimized by brutal acid attacks. The majority of these are women, and many more cases go unreported. With little or no access to reconstructive surgery, survivors are physically and emotionally scarred, while many reported assailants – typically a husband or someone close to the victim – are let go with minimal punishment from the state.
The film follows Dr. Mohammad Jawad, a plastic surgeon who left a thriving practice in Britain in order to assist Pakistan’s acid attack victims. During her acceptance speech, Obaid-Chinoy dedicated the award to Dr. Jawad, Rukhasana and Zakia, and “to all the women in Pakistan who are working for change.” She added, “Don’t give up on your dreams.”
Hopefully Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar win will mean that more people in Pakistan will have the opportunity to see the film. The filmmaker told the Wall Street Journal in November that she planned to show the film in private venues and recently told the Asia Society that “contractual restraints” prevented her from showing it to large audiences.
HBO will be broadcasting Saving Face on March 8. Mark your calendars.
As I watched actor Fisher Stevens gleefully accept his Oscar for the documentary The Cove last night, all I could think was “The guy from the Short Circuit movies won an Oscar?!”
Some background is probably necessary here. When I was about eight or nine I somehow stumbled on the movie Short Circuit 2 on basic cable. The movie revolves around the Indian American scientist Ben Javhri (Stevens), and his robot Johnny 5, two lost innocents trying to make their way in the big city.
As the Washington Post said in its review of the film:
[Johnny 5] and Ben, a cross between Gandhi and Gracie Allen, both feel isolated in a modern humanoid city, given their scrappy individualism. Ben, who is studying to become an American, is clearly an outsider from the minute he speaks such bent homilies as “You’re hitting the nail right between the eyes.” Meanwhile, Johnny Five is mistaken for bad modern sculpture, betrayed by a new friend and bamboozled by stereotypical movie Latino hoodlums.
Interestingly, though the Post critic calls the movie out for negatively portraying Latinos, it makes no mention of the fact that the entire film is based on Indian stereotypes.
My elementary school-aged self knew better. “This is so racist,” I remember thinking.
Somewhat notably, Stevens’ portrayal of Ben Javhri marked first time I had ever seen an Indian-American represented on film. I think that part of the reason I write about up-and-coming South Asian American actors so often is because for the longest time the only time I had seen ‘Indians’ on film were 1) while watching Gandhi with my parents and 2) on that day I saw Short Circuit 2 on cable.
For those who were lucky enough to miss the Short Circuit films the first time around, watching a few seconds of the video below will probably show you all that you need to know. There’s also the remake of the original film to look forward to in 2011. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that the Ben Javhri character will be revived in the new film.