The ‘Oscar’ that went to Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy in Los Angeles is a first for Pakistan. In her acceptance speech Chinoy dedicated the award to the women of Pakistan saying: “All the women in Pakistan working for change, don’t give up on your dreams, this is for you.” Chinoy’s work has been internationally recognised in the past, most notably through an Emmy Award in 2010 for ‘Pakistan’s Taliban Generation’. The subjects of her work are often challenging and her winning documentary is certainly so. ‘Saving face’ documents the fate of women attacked by having acid thrown on them and the work of a British-Pakistani surgeon who performs reconstructive surgery on their appallingly scarred faces. Over 100, mainly women and girls, are attacked in this way every year, though civil society groups say the real figure is much higher but many victims and their families choose not to report the crime out of fear or ‘shame’.
Although the award is a matter of personal and national pride, its content is a matter of national shame. Pakistan is reportedly the third-most dangerous country in the world for women after Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo according to a survey conducted last year by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Chinoy could have made a film about honour killing, or marital violence or any other of the many ways in which women’s lives are made miserable. But she made it about acid attacks, and in doing so drew back the curtain and exposed this form of misogyny. The film will now be widely shown around the world; it will soon be screened on the American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and in a range of European countries. What is more important is that Chinoy’s effort holds up a mirror to us for critical self-examination.