I want to tell girls, fear is taught; that you are born free and you are born brave – Maria Toorpakai
One of the highlights of this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival has got to be the UK premiere of Girl Unbound – a documentary feature film about Maria Toorpakai, a Pakistani squash player who grew up in South Waziristan (one of Pakistan’s highly conservative Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)), where since the age of four she had disguised herself as a boy in order to pursue her love of sport – first weight-lifting and then squash. You can read more about her stuff of legends story here and here.
The film follows Toorpakai as she returns home from Toronto, where she moved in 2011 and now largely lives. Once it became impossible to disguise her gender, she had had to leave FATA in the face of threats to her and her family from the Taliban who were obviously unhappy about the amount of leaving the house unaccompanied, and being unveiled that being a top female squash player (Toorpakai is currently ranked 82nd in the world, but reached as high as 41 in 2012) entails. What’s exciting about the film – in additional to its exceptional protagonist – is its focus on Toorpakai’s formidable family – who are supportive, progressive, and entirely defiant of the Taliban (from whom they still receive regular threats), and who I sincerely hope are portrayed as a critical reality-check on tiresome narratives that portray the people of Pakistan, and of FATA particularly as variously backward/ militant/ terrorist/ blah blah blah.
Girl Unbound premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in October last year to strong reviews. Still, this review from the Hollywood Reporter (which is worth reading) points out that the film leaves important questions about of Toorpakai’s gender identity unexplored. Definitely sounds like something to go and judge for yourself!
Here’s the trailer – and details to book are right below. Both screenings include a Q&A with Maria Toorpakai.
When: Wednesday 15 March/ Thursday 16 March 2017
Where: Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS/ Picturehouse Central, Corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and Great Windmill Street, London W1D 7DH
Tickets: £12 (+ 60p online booking fee, 70p phone booking fee), (concessions available)/ £12
More info: Human Rights Watch Film Festival
Posted on 25 February 2017
Photo from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival