The images that Afghanistan conjures are usually ones that mirror front-page stories of newspapers around the world: armed Taliban crouching at the entry of a mountain cave, women in burqas, and images of public stonings are just a few that are constantly associated with the country.
HBO is schedule to air a two-part documentary that paints a broader picture of Afghanistan and its women. The first part titled, “Afghan Star,” named for Afghanistan’s first televised singing competition, follows the final contestants—two of which are women—as they come closer to becoming the first “Afghan Star.”
The second part, titled “Silencing the Fallen Afghan Star,” follows the story of one of the two final female contestants, Setara, who becomes notorious for her “dance moves” and “liberal” attitude while on Afghan Star. This part focuses on Setara’s life after she is eliminated from the competition.
This documentary portrays Afghan women as anything but a homogenous group, unlike the futile efforts of mainstream media to depict these women accurately. The film strays from the overused and stereotypical representation of Afghan women as victims (either cognizant or unaware of their victimization). Specifically, it doesn’t present them as victims of religion or of Afghan men in general, while still providing a space for frank and honest discussions regarding problems of governance and social injustice that seem to prevail in certain parts of Afghanistan.
Although there are only two female contestants in the documentary and a handful of other females, from fans to female relatives of the two contestants, viewers can get a glimpse of the diversity of Afghanistan’s women. We see women on film with hijab, niqab, burqa or completely unveiled. Each wears a different style of clothing, ranging from jeans and t-shirts to bright blue burqas to colorful shilvar kamis, (tunic and pant combination). Most of the women are from different ethnic groups and different regions of Afghanistan, which plays a big role in determining what is considered to be “appropriate” dress. This fact is reiterated throughout the documentary in its portrayal of the divergent dress and attitudes of the two female contestants, Lema and Setara.