In one scene in Osama, named Best Foreign Language Film at the 2004 Golden Globe Awards, a mob of women carrying protest signs jostles anxiously down a dusty Afghan street. All are covered in head-to-toe burkas. They have no faces and thus no expressions. They are without the uniqueness that makes us human. By forcing all women to hide under the same anonymous shroud, Taliban men have robbed themselves of many blessings. They truncate their own lives by oppressing the women who could have been their friends and colleagues.
Western media tend to do the same for Middle Eastern people in general. Soundbytes on the news portray rabid, turban-clad fanatics firing Kalashnikovs into the air. The need to simplify complex issues drives the media to rely on blanket generalizations. Yet a casual look at films from Muslim and Middle Eastern countries belies a vibrant, multi-faceted word of surprises.
Osama director Siddiq Barmak was born in Afghanistan and attended film school in then-communist Moscow. Osama was edited and partially financed in Iran. For many Westerners, this would make him three times a suspect, yet Osama is a work of power, beauty and truth. It plays like an Old Testament story. That Barmak could, and would, make such a film tells us that there is more to Afghanistan and Iran than the media lead us to believe.
Since we build so much of our world view upon the filtered images of news, television and film, it behooves us to thoughtfully examine the media of other cultures. When I show international films to my college and high school students, I ask, "What do we know about this culture that would help explain why this movie was so popular there?" "What do they believe about God and humanity?" "Who are their neighbors?" ...1
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