CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 20. . . .January 24, 2014
Hollywood has tuned us up to love movies about underdogs who, despite impossible odds, manage to pull off a victory in whatever the challenge presents. Anyone, after the required musical montage of training it seems, can overcome any adversary or difficulty. While this is great fodder for the movies, life sadly, does not always favour underdogs.
In The Boxing Girls of Kabul, three sisters have decided that, despite much public disfavour, they will train as boxers and represent Afghanistan in international boxing events. All the ingredients of a “feel good movie” are here. Their coach was chosen to represent Afghanistan during the 1984 Olympics, but with the Soviet invasion, his dream was never realized. When the Taliban took power, they outlawed all sports. The girls’ equipment is shoddy; women are not encouraged to be boxers (many are not allowed); they train in a makeshift ring, but they have heart and determination. Their involvement in sports is admirable: “We should be showing other nations that Afghanistan is a nation where women can do sports, where women can make progress. When a girl becomes a champion, people will understand that girls can achieve anything. Champion of the world—an Afghan girl, then they will understand the value of girls.” Even though none of them have boxed outside their own gym, nothing will stop their dreams of bringing home victory.
The film goes into their lives with great detail. The father is fully behind them, although many feel that he is behaving irresponsibly. The mother is proud of their determination and the fact that they are breaking with the repressive traditions that have held women back for centuries. The girls each have their own reasons for choosing such an unconventional path. They deserve to win on grit alone.
However, this is not a Hollywood movie. The first time one sister actually sees a boxing ring is at her first competition. Of course, she is defeated instantly. The girls from the other countries have quality equipment, proper training facilities and the backing of their home countries. When they go to get jerseys for their competition, the vendor tells them, “I doubt that you’ll win.” The Kabul girls were beaten before they left Afghanistan.
Once their attendance at international events becomes publicized on Afghan television, they become recognized on the street. Instead of earning praise for their efforts, they are greeted with threats of violence and death. The coach was once approached by “a big bearded man who said, ‘I saw you on tv. You train with girls. This is not appropriate in these circumstances.’” He states that, had they been on a side street, “He may have shot me.” Their mother is chastised by other women: “What kind of mother are you? They will never get husbands.” Their brother is ridiculed by his friends who ask, “What kind of brother are you?” He fears for them all: “When the war comes, [the Taliban] will come to our house and accuse us of being non-Muslim because you have had relations with foreign people.” Older than his sisters, he remembers the days of the Taliban and admits this is the only reason he is opposed to their boxing. They admire their father, “because, in Afghanistan, there are very few people like that.” He supports their boxing as he “sees no difference between girl and boy. They both have equal rights.” However, he has concerns because “there are ignorant people who would cause problems simply because a girl is boxing.”
So, a film that should be about three determined athletes who wish to compete for their country and be role models for other young women becomes a study in the injustice of a society that takes the restriction of women as a matter of fact: “The girl around the corner is not allowed to play sports or go to school. She can’t even leave the house.” One of the sisters is saddened by the burden she has placed on her family. She is fully aware of the mistreatment of women, and the film gives some examples of horrible punishments issued by the Taliban. She knows that “the Taliban are there—they look like ordinary people, in shops, on the street; they don’t necessarily wear turbans, long robes or beards. I am afraid of them—of what they might do.” She knows that she is placing her family at risk. At the end of the film, it is stated that she is married and expecting her first child. She goes to the gym when she can.
The Boxing Girls of Kabul is a very good film. Viewers get an intimate look at family life as each of the family members is given time to explain their her/his philosophies and actions, and viewers get to know them quite well. The girls make it clear that they are almost beaten before they start. There is little support for their chosen sport and great opposition to their taking part at all. As the brother feels, this may come back to harm them.
The Boxing Girls of Kabul works on so many levels. As a sports film, it shows the need for proper training, instruction and equipment. For a film that wants to show the importance of following one’s dream, it makes clear that, just because one has all the best intentions, there may be many out there openly in opposition. As a film on social justice, it reveals how something as basic as girls playing sports, something taken for granted in Canada, can be extremely difficult and dangerous in other countries. The film has applicability in Physical Education courses, Family Studies, Sociology, Ethics, Women’s Studies and Geography.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.