Instep Today

YouTube Originals: Rights, Not Roses

By Maheen Sabeeh
Thu, 03, 20

The first episode from ‘FUNDAMENTAL. GENDER JUSTICE. NO EXCEPTIONS’ – a production of SOC Films and Global Fund for Women, is arresting, heartbreaking and hopeful in equal measure.

At a time when you can download apps loaded with content, both educating, entertaining or otherwise, or drown yourself in content coming at you from streaming giants, the emergence of YouTube Originals is one of the best and most competitive spaces for content.

From Coldplay’s beautiful Everyday Life (Live in Jordan) performances to Robert Downey Jr. hosting a series on what Artificial Intelligence has and can achieve and Creators of Change on Girls Education with Michelle Obama, it continues to focus on unprecedented subjects, brings speakers from around the globe with equally important stories that help shape a better world and remind us what just one person can sometimes achieve.

We, at minimum, learn and become more compassionate towards each other, if nothing else, and more informed about the world. Told in a fashion that is irresistible, once you start on an episode, it is hard to not finish it. The duration of episodes varies but it also depends on what the conversation is about. I’d highly recommend the Coldplay series to begin with, before moving towards stronger subjects.

To find Pakistan’s two-time Academy Award winner, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s ‘FUNDAMENTAL. GENDER JUSTICE. NO EXCEPTIONS on the platform is not exactly surprising since SOC is almost always creating moments of pride for Pakistan by not shying from showcasing the uglier truth, even in the face of threats.

But the reason to watch Rights, Not Roses is not SOC’s name recognition. For one thing, terrible content just doesn’t feature on YouTube Originals at least thus far. For another, as an SOC Films press statement tells us, “The five-episode international documentary series shot and produced by documentary film-makers from SOC FILMS, Safyah Zafar Usmani and Shahrukh Waheed and directed by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy” have created the first global series to be officially presented and released by YouTube Originals and Refinery29.

A production of SOC Films and Global Fund for Women, it begins from Pakistan before heading to several international locations such as Brazil, Georgia, Kenya and the USA. In the first episode SOC shines a light on one woman’s story and with her a tradition that is socially acceptable but shouldn’t be; it still finds a place in Pakistan because morally reprehensible traditions continue to kill us one day at a time.

“What in the world are we going to do?

Look at what everybody’s going through

What kind of world do you want it to be?”

In episode one of the series (Right, Not Roses), the subject of child marriages takes centerstage. But before it does, as the episode begins, we see faces, shot in various angles, stating various truths where one of them says: “Freedom is the face of autonomy”; “I’m not going to give up” while we see another simply scream. Welcome to the real world of women. These truisms hold true for all of us.

As we are introduced to the crux of the episode, ‘Right, Not Roses – Ending Child Marriages and Forced Marriages in Pakistan’ – the statistics alone bring a sense of horror: In 3 out of 4 states, the legal age of marriage for a girl is 16 and 18 for a man. There are laws that exist to prevent child marriages, but 21 percent of girls in Pakistan are married well before the age of 18. Let that sink in as the piano gently weeps in the background.

We enter Pakistan and are in the province of Kyber-Pakhthunkhwa as we are introduced to the hidden star in our midst, the dynamic woman that is Rukhshanda Naz, Founder, Noor Education Trust and an inspiring women’s activist. She directly tells us that archaic traditions exist that contribute to this horrifying statistic. Through the streets of KP, as the scenes move, we learn about her family including an authoritative father figure and a submissive mother taking care of children; there is a significant age difference between them. Naz tells us how she noticed it when she got older; her mother was 13 when she was married to her father. What is worse is how she tells us that age is still acceptable in many households. As the episode moves on we learn she has spent her whole life fighting patriarchal norms in the courts. We go to Peshawar to a primary girl’s school where she beautifully talks to the children and talks to the class; she tells them to puts the books aside.

She asks them to show her some drawings where the girls have drawn images of fathers forcing their daughters to marriage and how all of it is acceptable in society.

From there, we see more figures, we learn more. But this scene with the children brings a kind of brain block. When you see their innocent faces and their drawings and their thoughts, the statistic shapeshifts. It is no longer a statistic. But this rips away the statistic and gives it a face and once it does, it is hard to remove it from memory.

You must watch it to see how the rest unfolds. It is a remarkable story, directed by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, of one of the heroes in our midst, who some of us might have known nothing about had it not been for this effort and for that achievement of hope; you can watch it and applaud SOC Films and root for the woman that is Rakhshanda Naz. What a remarkable story.