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Pakistan Lifts Ban on Film about Rape

On November 17th, Pakistan’s Central Board of Film Censorship (CBFC) lifted its ban on the movie Verna, which was scheduled to premiere that same day. Verna is a new film about the injustices faced by rape victims in Pakistan. Now, women’s rights activists are praising the film and see the decision to release the movie as a milestone for the country.

“This movie is important because we live in a country where three women are raped every day, and if we want healthy societies, then we have to speak about the issue of rape,” said Gulalai Ismail, an activist with the NGO Aware Girls. “Movies have the potential to change society.”

It is not uncommon for the media in Islamic countries to place the blame on the victim rather than the perpetrator. When the CBFC originally denied the film because of its “mature themes and edgy content,” activists accused board members of censoring women’s voices, while also turning their heads to the atrocities women face. The ban inspired the campaign #UnbanVerna, which emerged as Pakistan’s own #MeToo movement.

Before the ban was even lifted, cinema’s were sold out. Many people showed their support for the film, which was directed by Shoaib Mansoor and starred popular actress Mahira Khan as the protagonist, Sara.

Sara is a teacher who gets abducted by the influential son of a local governor while on an anniversary trip with her husband. She is held captive and raped by him for three days. After she realizes that the justice system is not in her favor, she takes matters into her own hands. This is not the typical portrayal of rape victims, who are usually shown to be weak and silent.

“She is not what society imagines a rape victim to be,” said Khan. ”Verna is the ultimate revenge film about a girl seeking justice. Sara is a woman that doesn’t sink into self-pity. And we don’t want the audience to pity her, but rather to encourage her and at the same time recognize how terrible what she goes through is.”

Some believe the portrayal of rape isn’t the only reason the film was banned. Along with showing the unfortunate way the country handles rape cases, Mansoor wanted to show how Pakistani elites consider themselves above the law. He even says that he expected more backlash.

“I wanted to make a film about how the ruling class abuses power against common people,” said Mansoor. “I chose to focus on the issue of rape because that is the most common way power is used against women. Like many people, I too believe that rape is more for a show of power over people than a result of sexual frustration.”

Film is a very powerful force that can drive countries to change and move forward. The leaders of Pakistan are aware of this and were apparently anxious about the impact of this film. Regardless of what critics have to say about the film’s content, Verna has had an irreversible impact on Pakistan, which is one more step in the direction of change for the country.

Featured Image by Waqas Mustafeez on Flickr

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