HBO releases searing Afghan women’s stories in ‘Love Crimes of Kabul’
Lisa A. Phillips – WNN Reviews
(WNN) KABUL: Of the 125 prisoners in Kabul’s Badam Bagh Women’s Prison half are there for ‘Moral Crimes’
In the opening scene of “Love Crimes of Kabul,” a documentary premiering on HBO this Monday night, July 11, director Tanaz Eshaghian asks two prison guards, “What kind of women are in this prison?”
“They’re not good women,” one answers. “If they were good women, they wouldn’t be here. They would be home with their families.”
Since the U.S. war in Afghanistan began, the plight of women in Afghanistan has erratically flashed into view. The much touted steps forward – better education, increased female representation in government, successful women-run businesses – have been shadowed by the many ways women’s lives are still severely constricted. Most women are forced into arranged marriages, illiteracy rates are high, and, in areas under Taliban control, women are punished severely for wearing anything short of a a full body veil.
What “Love Crimes of Kabul” illuminates is the extent to which women’s hearts are also constricted. Half of the inmates in Afghanistan’s notorious Badam Bagh Women’s prison are there for the “moral crimes” of premarital sex, running away from home, and adultery. Granted what HBO calls “unprecedented access” to the Badam Bagh Women’s Prison and the Kabul Men’s Prison, Eshaghian profiles three women awaiting trial for moral transgressions.
At times the women have the air of romantic heroines, willing to risk all for love and liberty. Sabereh is a soft-spoken and preternaturally calm 18-year-old who was imprisoned after her father caught her in a back room with a 17-year-old boy. She describes her beloved as “my soul, my faith, my life.” Aleema, 22, ran away from an abusive home and found refuge with Zia, who tried to sell her into slavery. Kareema, 20, is a forthright Hazara, an oppressed ethnic minority group of Shiite Muslims. She glows and strokes her neck as she describes her lover Firuz. “I liked his height, his body, his hair. Everything!”
Kareema’s adoration mingles disarmingly with hard-edged scheming. Fearful that Firuz would not marry her after she got pregnant, she reported their crime of premarital sex to Afghan authorities, who imprisoned both of them. Once Firuz’s family agrees to marriage, Kareema is a forceful negotiator, unwilling to settle for a low dowry even though her marriage value is threatened by the fact that she is no longer a virgin. Her memorable final bargaining point is petitioning Firuz’s family for more money to buy sweets for the wedding party she’ll throw for her fellow inmates. Her wrangling comes across as nervy and opportunistic, but her circumstances require her to stand firm. She has everything at stake. Not only will marriage get her out of prison, it will also redeem her. She must marry and stay married – so she bargains hard to make herself too expensive to abandon.
Marriage has always been a subject of great interest to Eshaghian. As an Iranian-American Jewish woman, she grew up in a culture that pressured women to marry by age 25. In her autobiographical documentary Love, Iranian-American Style, she reveals how she, a product of a New York City upbringing and an Ivy League education, at first found humor in this convention and then came to feel oppressed by it. The longer she remained single, the more ostracized she felt from her community. In Be Like Others, her documentary about Iranian transsexuals, marriage is, for one couple, a problematic holy grail of sexual authenticity.
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