When the documentary "Saving Face"
won this year's Academy Award for best short documentary, it was the first
Oscar earned by a Pakistani film. The documentary is now available for viewing
Yet some Pakistanis criticize the film because it has caused the
country to "lose face" in the international community. Why? Saving Face puts
the spotlight on the acid attacks that regularly occur in Pakistan. Most of the
victims are women, and their attackers are typically an angry husband or a
As a documentary, Saving Face profiles the ordeals of two women
who were horribly disfigured by acid attacks and the London-based Pakistani
doctor who helps repair some of the physical damage inflicted.
The custom of acid attacks appears to be an accepted practice
within Pakistan. More than 100 cases are reported each year. Given who the
victims are, their likely reluctance to come forward and report such attacks, and
the fact that wearing the burqah will permit the victims to hide the shame that
these vicious attacks imply toward the victims, it's likely the number of
actual attacks is far greater than that.
Critics who complain that the film portrays Pakistan in a poor
light would be better off doing something to prevent such attacks from
happening and punishing those who commit such atrocities. Blaming the victims
for alleged misconduct, pretending the attacks don't happen, or preposterously
asserting that the women disfigured themselves with acid does more to damage
Pakistan's public image than a film that brings the abuse to light.
Kudos to those who had the bravery to produce and participate in
the making of this film. To do so, places them in danger of retaliation by
As we have seen repeatedly in Islamic theocracies, women are
treated as chattel rather than as human beings and equals. The rule of law in
such regimes punishes women for their gender rather than protecting them from
grave human rights abuses.
One can hope that the Academy's recognition of Saving Face is a
tipping point on this issue. If Pakistan wants to be treated as an equal in the
international community, it is time for its government to institute a system of
educational and legal reforms, with the help of international NGOs, to deter
acid attacks, punish the culpable, and provide prompt medical assistance to the
Face Movie Review, RogerEbert.com (Mar. 7, 2012)
Face' puts focus on plight of Pakistani women, LA Times
(Mar. 8, 2012)
film sheds light on vicious acid attacks against women,
Pub. Radio Int'l (Mar. 13, 2012)
first Oscar, Al Arabiya News (Mar. 12, 2012)
Face: A conversation with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy,
Forbes (Mar. 9, 2012)