Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Film: Shame by Mohammed Ali Naqvi

The film "Shame" by Mohammed Ali Naqvi is scheduled for screening at the Imperial Theater in Augusta, GA as part of the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers. I'm looking forwarding to meeting Mohammed Ali Naqvi and watching the film. Afterwards, in sha Allah, I'll update the blog entry.

I'm writing this the morning after I've seen the film, September 7, 2008.

A couple things come out of the film that reading about the case might not completely convey. Pakistani media personnel, among whom I believe Mohammed Ali Naqvi would consider himself, played a major role in publicizing the case before international media picked up on it. At the same time, no amount of media publicity could have made a difference had Mukhtaran Mai, and later her family, decided not to endure the threats and insults from their neighbors in their pursuit of justice.

I was also impressed by Mukhtaran Mai personally, who has extensive interview clips in the film. In particular, her reasoning for starting primary school education was not based on reading a guide to development in the third world. Rather, she saw that people without education abused her and people with education helped her. Later, after an appeals court rules that there was insufficient evidence to convict her attackers, she realized that educated people might also fail to support her. We don't have a chance to hear where this realization leads her, but I sense a similar process of thinking working in her mind, which will eventually lead her to a course of action with even deeper social implications. Think here of Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights leader from Mississippi, United States (1917-1977.

Another important clip was when she openly contradicted a government official at a press conference.

She had crossed a barrier of fear that allowed her to face hostile villagers and manipulative government officials.

The documentary itself is restrained for a topic this explosive. The producer is on screen in a small number of scenes, and had I not seen his picture or met him, I might not have realized who the person was. While this style is not as entertaining as a Michael Moore (of whom I am a fan) documentary, it does alleviate some of the concerns of my correspondent quoted below.

I had invited someone whom I respect to watch the film. This person wrote:

I am not sure what this type of a movie accomplishes. Is it to collect money for lawyers that defend these women? Is it to get vicarious pleasure of a violent type by watching this as a thriller, or to change the political or religious climate in Pakistan or in USA?

None of these cannot be affected by such a movie. The American Muslims, even Pakistani Muslims, are not concerned with the social inequities of rural feudal systems in Pakistan, some of them might even belong to such a place and system.

All this type of a movie will do is further merge the grey area between islam and feudal practices of muslims in the eyes of Americans. To the second generation of Pakistanis it will just disgust them. I am not sure what is the advantage?

I would ask the film director as to what is the agenda of showing this movie in small town Augusta? Is it to bring further shame to Pakistanis? Or does this dark movie have a silver lining?
I replied:
Based on interviews with the filmmaker, the filmmaker tries to make distinctions between what happens in rural areas of Pakistan and Islam, although I suspect that most of the audience will not preserve that distinction in their minds. The filmmaker claims that Mukhtaran Mai’s response to the crime, from seeking justice to helping improve facilities in her village to remaining there despite ongoing threats to her life, is courageous and inspiring.
Americans won’t do much to change the social climate in Pakistan (although some have contributed money to the schools in Mukhtaran Mai’s village). I’m not sure if seeing this movie will make Americans more likely to support increasing military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I would hope seeing this movie would make people more sensitive to injustices perpetrated on the poor in the U.S.
As far as U.S. Muslims go, isn’t it important for them to understand poverty in Muslim countries? I don’t know about Pakistan, but many Egyptian-American children travel to Cairo’s richer areas and return without a clue of how the vast majority of Egyptians live. And frankly, the situation (in Egypt and Pakistan) should disgust us. And this can also be a way for them to start thinking about poverty in the United States.
Your points are good. In my opinion, to the extent that the film accurately portrays events, it is good. And of course I won’t know that until I see it. And even then, since I don’t have independent observations, I won’t really know!
In defense of this correspondent, the timing of the screening could not have been worse. Right at Maghrib in the month of Ramadan, with no provision made for either salaa or iftar. After seeing the movie, however, I do think it is something worth promoting among U.S. Muslims.

Finally, for some reason, I had a negative reaction to the scene depicting her award ceremony at Glamour magazine. I did not recognize the person who introduced her, but the introduction of her as an "illiterate" seemed very patronizing. Looking back, I'm trying to decide if my reaction against that scene is an example of my prejudices against the fashion world. Immediately following this recognition in North America, Mukhtaran Mai expresses her belief that "People's evil intentions will reveal themselves." I decided that this is not a bad way to approach this issue!

Here are some source materials:

Update April 21, 2011: Pakistan Supreme Court Upholds 5 Acquittals in Notorious Rape Case
Update March 11, 2014: Review of documentary film Outlawed in Pakistan, about another rape case.

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