Pakistan’s entertainment industry stands very divided right now. It’s been this way for a little over a year, ever since Meesha Shafi tweeted allegations of sexual harassment against Ali Zafar, bifurcating the industry between those who believed her and those who believed him. It also opened a window to conversation; women quietly started talking about abuse in the entertainment industry, harassment that was going unchecked, misogynistic behavior that coerced women artistes to quietly tolerate misbehavior if they were to remain relevant and if they wanted to be cast in the next film. I say ‘silently’ because too many of them were aware and fearful of the repercussions of breaking their silence on abuse; it would begin with vitriolic social media trolling and end with being dropped from films, dramas and commercial campaigns on account of being ‘controversial’.
The root of every conversation was this auxiliary case and based on gender, association and friendship or personal experiences of having worked with either or both Ali and Meesha, people decided which side they wanted to take. Others remained neutral to the situation, trusting neither side and opting to stay quiet until the issue was legally resolved.
Neutral is an option a platform as large as the Lux Style Awards opted for.
What they did, and I say this from experience of being on the jury for years, is leave it to the discretion of the jurors and judges. The LSA Office did not dictate any specific policy on the situation and allowed the judges the freedom to decide. Ostensibly, the Film Jury took the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ path and nominated him for Best Actor while the Music Jury took a stand to not nominate an “alleged” offender, even though Teefa in Trouble gave one of the best OSTs in 2018. The result was complete confusion, which is now snowballing into a tougher situation.
On March 30, 2019, nominee for Best Emerging Talent, Eman Suleman, withdrew her name from the running. “I was extremely honoured to be nominated for the Lux Style Awards. What I’m going to say next is probably going to result in a lot of eye rolls and vitriol. I do not wish to be part of an accolade that is shared with an alleged harasser. I feel no joy. Maybe give the nomination to someone who feels happy about it. I don’t. I am basically done.”
Yesterday evening, on April 22, fashion brand Generation – nominated for Achievement in Fashion Design (Pret) – and nominee Best Hair and Makeup Artists, Saima Bargfrede, both withdrew their nominations.
“Generation and prominent makeup artist Saima Bargfrede are honoured to have been nominated for the awards of Achievement in Fashion Design (pret) and Best Hair and Makeup Artist respectively at this year’s Lux Style Awards, however the two entities have decided to follow in Best Emerging Talent nominee Eman Suleman’s footsteps and step down from this year’s ceremony. The decision is in protest to the award platform’s choice to include a nomination for an individual who faces serious and credible accusations of sexual harassment,” stated the press release. “This decision has been made after serious deliberation and as both bodies do not hold anything against those who choose to attend the LSA this year, or bear any personal ill will towards anyone associated with the awards,” it concluded.
Yesterday, on April 23, and following the statement given out by Generation and Saima Bargfrede, Meesha Shafi too decided to withdraw.
“First and foremost I want to thank Eman Suleman. What she, Generation and Saima Bargfrede have said and done is what I consider my award,” Meesha shared on her social media pages. “In a perfect world, I would love to see women retain their space in the industry while being safe, so that the cost of speaking up is minimized, or even done away with altogether. A cost which is all too high at present. Our boycotts should not overshadow our achievements. With brave women like these, I feel optimistic about getting there one day. ‘Mein’ is a song about finding our true self. Being aligned with a higher purpose. Being our own hero and being enough. I wrote it at a particularly difficult time in my life. When I needed to be all those things. ‘Mein’ stands nominated for the best song at the Lux Style Awards 2019. The irony is not lost on me given the current circumstances and I would kindly request that my name and work be removed from the list of nominees.”
It would be naïve to think this situation will not escalate and more nominees will not react; one does expect this situation to snowball. And while this situation unravels, several questions come to mind, most specifically one wonders how the Lux Style Awards should officially have handled this situation? What is the position Unilever Global would have taken internationally? It would have been simple if a legal conclusion had been drawn by now but complex cases such as this one aren’t resolved overnight, especially not in Pakistan. Having said that, people have very little faith in the law, especially when it comes to cases like this. It is almost impossible to prove sexual harassment and just as impossible to prove innocence in a case of sexual harassment, given the Draconian laws of the land. And now the LSAs stand in very difficult situation. I do hope they find a way to resolve it fairly and objectively; being a supporter of the platform for years, I do hope they manage some damage control.