Accustomed to being the focus of bad news, the Pakistani nation celebrated on Monday after a filmmaker from Karachi won the country’s first Academy Award, for a documentary about the victims of gruesome acid attacks.
The film “Saving Face” by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy follows survivors among hundreds of people attacked every year, and focuses on British Pakistani plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad, who returned to his homeland to help restore their faces and lives.
“Daniel and I want to dedicate this award to all the heroes working on the ground in Pakistan, including Dr Mohammad Jawad who’s here with us today,” said Sharmeen, referring to her co-director Daniel Junge. Jawad was the plastic surgeon “working on rehabilitating all these women” including Rukhsana and Zakia, “our main subjects of the film, whose resilience and bravery in the face of such adversity is admirable”, she added. Sharmeen paid tribute to “all the women in Pakistan who are working for change,” saying: “Don’t give up on your dreams. This is for you.”
Twitter followers in Pakistan erupted with joy at news of the Oscar, falling over themselves with praise for her win and delighted that Pakistan was making headlines for something other than al Qaeda, Taliban and bomb attacks.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was quick to congratulate Sharmeen, and said she would receive “a high civil award” without specifying which one.
FAMILY PROUD: Sharmeen’s mother Saba spoke of the family’s delight and called on parents to support their daughters in a country where women can be treated as second-class citizens. “She is very happy. I am proud of my daughter. She has brought happiness for the family and the entire country. It is a great honour,” she said.
“We all supported Sharmeen in her endeavors and she has made Pakistan proud… I have a message for all fellow Pakistanis to support their daughters because our daughters have immense talent to the country.”
In a message read out by her mother, Sharmeen said she hoped to screen “Saving Face” at schools, colleges and in communities across the country “to spread awareness and promote dialogue in Pakistan”.
Her 12-year-old brother, Hamza, said he had been up all night watching the Oscars ceremony with the rest of her relatives in Karachi, telling reporters simply that he was “extremely thrilled”.
Sharmeen was born in 1978 and raised in the southern port city. She received a bachelors degree from Smith College and went on to complete two masters degrees from Stanford University.
Fellow Pakistani documentary filmmaker and multi-media expert, Musadiq Sanwal, said the prize was recognition of the fact that Pakistan was gaining a voice of its own in international culture.
“Sharmeen’s documentary and its winning an Oscar shows Pakistan is creating its own narrative and gaining its own voice internationally,” Sanwal said.
“Earlier, Pakistan had no voice at all to describe its strength and weaknesses, but now such efforts give it emancipation and power.”
Marvi Memon, a former lawmaker, who campaigned for tougher penalties for the perpetrators of acid attacks and played a role in the documentary, congratulated the director. “I congratulate her. So proud of her,” she said simply. Across the country, people were happy, in particular women. “It is great to see we are full of talent. Every Pakistani should be proud,” said Shumaila Azmat, 29, an executive in a private Karachi firm.
“What is even more heartening is to see that a Pakistani woman has won an Oscar.”