Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy Wins Oscar For ‘Saving Face’

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.

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Who is Mezhgan Hussainy?

American Idol fans and celebrity gossip watchers have probably already heard that Simon Cowell is widely rumored to be engaged to Mezhgan Hussainy, the show’s makeup artist. (Cowell’s reps have repeatedly denied the rumors.)

Turns out that Hussainy has a back story that’s far more interesting than the biographies of any of this season’s contestants. The Los Angeles Times‘ Idol Tracker blog reports:

Mezhgan’s family escaped Afghanistan soon after the Russians invaded in 1979. They spent a year in Pakistan before immigrating to the U.S. in 1983 and settling in Los Angeles. “When we came here, I didn’t know a word of English,” Mezhgan said when I recently interviewed her for American Idol Magazine. “I learned to speak the language, to understand the culture and how to fit in.”

Having gotten her start working behind the makeup counter at an LA department store, Hussainy now owns a makeup line of her own, me by (me)zghan. Just a glance at Husseiny’s official company bio shows how deeply she’s been affected by her family’s history. It begins:

“Just keep running and don’t stop.”

Those were the words my mother shouted as we fled Afghanistan, when I was just 8 years old. I knew we were headed for a better life, but I had no idea what was in store. That journey changed my life forever and I carry my mother’s words with me through my life and into career, to this day.

As she told Idol Tracker, “The irony for me is that, in my country, once the Taliban took over, women couldn’t even show their face or put on makeup. And here I was doing exactly that on the No. 1 show. I realized how important that was; [Makeup] is part of being a woman, and it does give you self-assurance and confidence. In a way, you’re ready to conquer the world.”

Update: Hussainy did a video interview with AmericanIdol.com in 2008. She talks about Afghanistan at 2:15.

Muhammad Abbas, Pakistan’s Lone Olympian

After writing last week’s post about Indian luger Shiva Keshavan’s Olympic run, I thought I’d take a look today at the career of Muhammad Abbas, the first ever Pakistani Winter Olympian.

Abbas is a 24-year-old alpine skier and a member of the Pakistani Air Force. He had an unconventional introduction to his sport. According to the AP, he began skiing “by strapping two planks of pine wood to his rubber boots.”

While skiing is often looked upon as a sport for the wealthy, Abbas’ upbringing was different:

He grew up in a village in northern Pakistan, an area surrounded by mountains. His family couldn’t afford to buy him traditional skis, so his dad carved a pair out of wood.

The lift at the local slope only went up 500 metres – the downhill run at Whistler is 3,105 metres – so he skied the same smooth terrain over and over. He became quite proficient on that slope, on those homemade skis.

“I was the best out of the lot,” Abbas proudly said through his coach and interpreter, Zahid Farooq.

During the first Alpine Skiing run, Abbas finished 87th. Update: Just saw the results for the second run; Abbas finished 79th overall.

For those interested in reading more about Abbas: The BBC World Service did a nice interview with Abbas last week, and Abbas and his coach are featured in the first 5 photos in this Stamford Advocate slideshow.

Update #2: More from Pakistaniat.

(Hat tip: @tazeen, @kalsoom82)