Family, Taliban scare off actresses in Afghan film industry

June 14, 2011

(Afghan film actress Nafisa Nafis puts on make-up at the sets of a television series directed by Saba Sahar in Kabul June 7, 2011/Ahmad Masood)

A young bride silently sobs on the floor watching her mentally disturbed husband gorge on chicken, rub his greasy hands through his hair and scream at her for more, just another chapter in the couple’s violent life together. Film director Saba Sahar anxiously watches the scene by the cameraman, squatting in blue jeans and wearing a bright pink headscarf. “Cut!” she calls.

The first Afghan female in her profession, Sahar, 36, has become a household name after acting and directing for more than half her life. She is adored by Afghan women. Like other Afghan directors, Sahar says finding actresses is her top challenge in an ultra-conservative Muslim country where many view acting as un-Islamic and inappropriate for women.

“Some Afghans think cinema is a bad place for girls,” said 19-year-old Deba Barekzai, who plays the young bride in Sahar’s 15-part TV series. “Working in cinema has caused me lots of problems and difficulties.”

Afghan-Canadian director Nelofer Pariza said family pressure stopped several of her actresses from showing up on set when filming 2009′s “An Act of Dishonour”, a real-life story about an honour killing. “It was really sad. Fear would actually stop them from coming to work,” Pariza told the audience last month following the film’s first public screening in Afghanistan.

Further complicating their challenges are the threats the film industry receives from a resurgent Taliban, who banned television and women from most work before their austere rule was toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces a decade ago. Amid escalating violence across Afghanistan in the tenth year of fighting in the NATO-led war, fear of the Taliban is ever present across many sectors of society.

Read the full story by Amie Ferris-Rotman and Sayed Hassib here.

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