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Oscar-Nominated Film A Letter to the President Illuminates Injustice Against Women in Afghanistan

A woman generally doesn’t fight back when assaulted by a man, but film director Roya Sadat challenges that in A Letter to the President. The film’s protagonist, a senior police detective named Soraya, slapped her husband back after he slapped her, according to the New York Times. Sadat explained how that slap, though it may be difficult for some to accept, sheds a light on the injustices women face in Afghanistan.

“It’s not easy for the people to accept a woman slapping a man. But the film affects them,” Sadat told the Times. “The slap is a really enjoyable slap — in fact, it’s a slap to the face of all the injustice women face here.”

A Letter to the President was selected as Afghanistan’s candidate to receive a nomination for for the Academy Awards’ foreign language category, Variety reports. Foreign Policy also honored Sadat as a GolbalReThinker this year. Her film is the second one Afghanistan chose as an Oscar representative, The Black Tulip serving as the first, IMDB states.

In the film, Soraya is a public official who aims to enforce the law in Afghanistan and save a young woman accused of adultery from a clan, according to Roya Film House. She later accidentally kills her husband and is arrested and condemned to death. To save herself, Soraya writes a letter to the President explaining why she murdered her husband, Variety reports.

Sadat was one of the first female filmmakers who arose after the Taliban’s regime fell and even secretly wrote scripts during the Taliban’s regime as a young child, according to Alchetron. She is co-president and co-founder of the International Women’s Film Festival in Afghanistan.

The Locarno Festival states that Sadat founded the Roya Film House company, the first independent Afghan film company founded by women, with her sister. She was the first director and producer to successfully shoot films after the Taliban fell, with A Letter to the President being her first feature film.

According to Rawa, women lived under severe restrictions during the Taliban’s regime. Women could not listen to music, watch film or television, work outside the home, study at universities, be photographed, or have their pictures appear on books and in newspapers. In a post-Taliban world, Sadat can make films freely due to the lack of these restrictions.

Sadat discussed how the Taliban’s regime promoted patriarchal beliefs, so women in media careers still face difficulties despite these freedoms.

“During the Taliban years, many people became Talibanized. Those people are still living in Afghanistan now. So it is not very comfortable for women, especially those who work in the media,” she told Variety.

Sadat acknowledges Afghanistan’s growth in the past decade but notes that some people still hold traditional beliefs about the patriarchy. She feels that film can promote change in Afghanistan, according to Foreign Policy.

“I really believe in cinema. If we want to change anything in this country, we must use culture,” Sadat said.

Filmmakers like Sadat break traditional norms in their art and bring societal issues to the silver screen. Women in Afghanistan have enjoyed greater rights in the last few years and creatives like Sadat can help women achieve even greater freedoms.

Featured Image by ABC Disney Television Group on Flickr

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