A Girl in the River: Oscar-Winning Director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy Shines a Light on Honor Killings [Exclusive]
In Pakistan, more than 1,000 women perceived as having compromised the â€œhonorâ€ of their families are reported to be killed each year. Families are often pressured to forgive and absolve the aggressors, which allows them to return to the community. In A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy explores the complex forces faced by women in Pakistan today. The clashing interpretations of women’s rights and family honor are examined as we exploreÂ the dramatic journey of Saba â€”Â a courageous young woman who survived an honor killingÂ â€” as she fights for her life, her dignity and for justice.
I had the chance to talk to two-time Oscar-winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy last week. We discussed why she wanted to make this film, how she discoveredÂ Saba, how prevalent honor crimes areÂ around the world and what Pakistan is doing to protect these young women.
TV GOODNESS: First of all, congratulations on your second Oscar win. I really loved your speech and I want to come back to that. But letâ€™s start at the beginning. How long have you been wanting to tell this story and how did you find Saba?
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: “Starting in 2013, I wanted to begin working on a film about honor killings. We tried to find a few cases. We even began to work on a few characters, but in honor killings almost always the victim perishes, so I was looking for a survivor of honor killings. I wanted to tell the story from the perspective of a survivor.
One day I was reading in the newspaper that this young woman had been shot and thrown in the river in a gunny bag in what appeared to be an attempted honor killing. We jumped at the chance to find the young woman. We called up the hospital, the team arrived over there and we began filming almost immediately.”
TV GOODNESS: How did you decide you wanted to frame this story and was it easy or difficult to get Saba’s family to talk to you?
Sharmeen: “The film framed itself. We wanted to tell her story. We were convinced she was going to fight the court case and it was gonna be a very different story than what it turned out to be. We began filming. We started pursuing the case. Her family, her in-laws were very supportive and gave us access. Eventually after we spoke to her father and the uncle, the mother and sister also started giving us access. So, it worked out. Each one wanted to tell their side of the story.
As a documentary filmmaker, the best films are made when you are surprised. I was surprised. I didnâ€™t even know she could forgive. That just came in the mix when she started going to court and we heard people talking about forgiveness. Then we started researching about forgiveness. Can she and what are the parameters of it? And the story just started taking shape that way.”
TV GOODNESS: I love that you end the story with Saba having so much hope for the future and that she has a daughter. Sheâ€™s wishing all these great things for her, but I was still sad that Saba couldnâ€™t see justice for herself. Was it important for you to end the film on a hopeful note?
Sharmeen: “I wanted the film to end on a hopeful note because I wanted the audience to realize that having gone through what she has gone through, Saba wanted a different life for her daughter, that she was aware of what the potential and possibilities were. She knew she couldnâ€™t get them, but she wanted her daughter to get them.
Now this is exactly the same case between me and Saba. Saba used to look at me when I used to come and film with her. She used to look at Haya [Fatima Iqbal], my co-producer, and she used to say, â€˜How do the two of you have so many freedoms?â€™ She would often ask us questions and in asking us questions, she would be better informed about what the potential of being a woman in Pakistan could be.”
TV GOODNESS: Letâ€™s talk about Saba a little more. I think you did such a great job of giving us a full picture of who she is. You show the side that wants to be a dutiful daughter, but has been wronged. You show her with her husband and theyâ€™re great together. When you were talking to Saba how did you decide what you wanted to put in the film for people to see?
Sharmeen: “I wanted people to see Saba as this fierce warrior, a woman who wanted her life to be an example. It changed from her being that fierce warrior to being a woman that has been forced by society and had to come under pressure. I wanted people to experience that transformation as she was experiencing it.”
TV GOODNESS: Letâ€™s go back to your Oscar speech. You said some great things and talked about the men who champion women. What difficulties did you face in making this film and how important was it that your male allies had your back?
Sharmeen: “The thing about the men championing women is that almost too often itâ€™s easy to demonize all men. I want people to realize there are good men and the good men do champion women.
For example, with Sabaâ€™s case you saw the doctor at the hospital. [He] was horrified when she had been brought in in this condition. He was to save her life. The first lawyer, Asad [Jamal], really fought for Sabaâ€™s rights. The police officer, [Ali Akbar], believed very strongly that this has nothing to do with religion and investigated the case and brought the father and the uncle to jail.”
TV GOODNESS: You also mentioned that the Pakistani Prime Minister has seen the film and has pledged to change the law. Howâ€™s that coming along?
Sharmeen: “Last week the Prime Ministerâ€™s office â€” with members of the Parliament, the cabinet, the press â€” watched the film. Legislation is being drafted right now on honor killings and it is going to go to Parliament very soon. We believe that in a matter of weeks this legislation is going to be brought to the Parliament. I think itâ€™s very important to have strong legislation and the Prime Minister has taken the lead on it.”
TV GOODNESS: After people watch your film, is there a way to help? What would you recommend they do to make sure this doesnâ€™t happen to other young women?
Sharmeen: “One of the things about honor killings is that they affect many communities around the world. If youâ€™re talking about an American audience, if youâ€™re talking about a Canadian audience, if weâ€™re talking about a Western audience, in immigrant communities honor killing crimes are very prevalent because the parents, especially the fathers, want to hold onto their daughters and donâ€™t want them to assimilate into the society that they have moved into.
There have been some high-profile cases in the U.S. There was a case of an Iraqi family where the father killed his daughter. There was another of a Hindu father killing his daughter. In Canada there was were daughters in an Afghan family that were killed. So, this is prevalent. In the UK, the BBC did a report that in the last 5 years 11,000 honor crimesâ€”Â not killings, but crimes related to honor â€” happened in the UK. Thatâ€™s an astounding number.
The only thing that one can do is talk about this issue and educate yourself about it. There are non-profits that work especially with immigrant communities. Those are non-profits that should be strengthened and empowered. Resources are located there.”
Edited for space and content.
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness premieres Monday, March 7th at 9/8c HBO.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
Catching Up with Ted Lasso and Previewing Season 2
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] The not so dirty little secret about how I approach a new series is that I sometimes make a call based on the headspace I’m in at the time. It’s been a minute since I’ve picked up a show after the first season and then binge…
Interview: Henri Esteve on Grown-ish Season 3
An interview with Henri Esteve, who plays Javi on Freeform’s Grown-ish. He talks about his season three experience.
For All Mankind Season 2: Talking with Wrenn Schmidt, Krys Marshall, Jodi Balfour, and Sonya Walger [Exclusive]
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] One of the hooks of For All Mankind is that it’s very much a story about the women of NASA. In Season 2, we explore the journeys of the women in the program, either through their own service or through their family affiliations. Four of those…
Rosy McEwen Talks The Alienist: Angel of Darkness Season Finale [Exclusive]
[Warning: Spoilers for the season finale episodes.] How’s everyone after that finale? I will freely admit I got a little misty in episode eight as John told Sara why he loved her, and later that he wanted her despite what he might forfeit, and then at the end when he…
Rosy McEwen Talks The Alienist: Angel of Darkness [Exclusive]
Hands down, one of the best surprises of The Alienist: Angel of Darkness is that the serial killer this season has been front and center alongside the cast as a fully-formed character. We’ve watched Libby Hatch devolve from a prim, mild-mannered nurse to a woman in a rage hell-bent on…
The Alienist: Angel of Darkness Relationship Recap: John and Sara
[Warning: Spoilers for “Belly of the Beast” and “Memento Mori”] If you’ve read me for a while (thank you!), you know two things — I lean way, way in on the characters I adore and I loathe love geometry arcs. So, I’m torn about where we are and where we…
Louriza Tronco Talks The Order Season 2 [Exclusive]
[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Season 2.] The Order’s second season is dark yet delightful entertainment on many levels, and one of its biggest sources of joy and snark is the sassy Gabrielle Dupres. Last season, she was assertive and deadly and fairly annoyed with the world. This season, she’s been…
Previewing Netflix’s Virgin River
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] Full disclosure: I have a Netflix account for my Mom, but I’m not a regular viewer. If I get a heads up on something, I’ll go look for it, but I don’t have a wander across its offerings, which, as I understand it, is how most…
Final Thoughts From the Killjoys Team [Exclusive]
This is the day of the week I’d normally hit you up with a Killjoys preview, but now that we’ve put the series to bed and released Team Awesome Force into the wild, I have one more treat for you–some final thoughts excerpted from my conversations with the Killjoys folks….
Michelle Lovretta Talks Wrapping Up Killjoys [Exclusive]
[Warning: Spoilers for the series finale.] To quote Miss Jackson, “That’s the end?” Yes, friends, it is. And like I promised you, everything would be, was, and is alright. I went to the Killjoys source, series creator Michelle Lovretta, who wrote the last episode, to break down that delicious finale….
What They Said: Three Revealing Conversations from Survivor’s Remorse “Closure”
WARNING: Spoilers for Survivor’s Remorse “Closure” The latest episode of Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse featured conversations that showed characters really digging deep into their thoughts, emotions and motivations.
Two Takes: The Catch “The Knock-Off”
Who can you trust? If this episode of The Catch was any indication, the answer is just about nobody. Betrayal was running rampant as Felicity (Shivani Ghai) arose from the dead to seduce-con Margot, Gretchen (Maria Thayer, Gotham, The Mindy Project) played gold-hearted Alice 2.0 before swindling Ethan, Tessa jumped…
What They Said: Top 3 Quotable Moments from Preacher “El Valero”
Both Quincannon and Jesse refuse to give up on what they each think is rightfully theirs. While Jesse is struggling to face the consequences of his actions, Quincannon has laid his past demons to rest and is hellbent on moving forward and putting Annville on the map again. Despite a…
What They Said: Favorite Quotes from Supergirl “Worlds Finest”
Oh, Supergirl. That ending was cold. But I can’t hate on you because the latest episode has quickly become one of my favorites.
What They Said: Top 4 Quotable Moments from Black Sails “XXIII”
The dialogue in “XXIII” is phenomenal. It’s always a fun ride when Black Sails carries its viewers along without giving them the chance to catch their breath. When an episode moves at this unforgiving pace, there is no chance for a breather nor is there a respite from the information…
What Lucifer Said: Favorite quotes from Supernatural “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
Supernatural episodes are almost always funny but thanks to the dialogue and a certain man speaking said dialogue, I laughed a lot during “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” You know, when I wasn’t busy fearing for Sam’s life or wondering what in the world was going on with Dean and…
What They Said: The Flash, “Legends Of Today” and Arrow, “Legends Of Yesterday”
Two nights of Arrow +Â The Flash = what more could we ask for?! I don’t know what it is about blending these shows, but I canâ€™t help but feel that every time they come together, they somehow become greater than the sum of their parts. And thatâ€™s saying a lot…
What they Said: Top 4 Quotable Moments from Graceland “Little Bo Bleep”
Shoot outs. Fake outs. And long-awaited revelations. “Little Bo Bleep” was a jam-packed episode that wrapped up some loose ends and totally frayed others. Â It finally gave us one Sarkissian in jail and pulled back the curtain on Briggs’ master plan, but it also set up Jakes for a world…
What They Said: Favorite Quotes from Poldark “Part 4”
â€œWhat have I told you, I don’t require my wife to crochet and sip tea, but I do require her to remember she’s not a beast of burden.â€ No, Iâ€™m not talking about The Rolling Stones! I have to admit though, just for a second, the lyrics popped into my…
3 Moments of Goodness from Brooklyn Nine-Nine “Johnny and Dora”
The most satisfying part of this season’s finale has to the Jake and Amy kiss. Well, they kiss three times but the last one is the best one — and it means something. The Charles and Rosa dynamic was also great. I love how she’s convinced he doesn’t know anything…