Saving Faces in Pakistan- Looking Forward from the Oscar

Shameem Akhtar, a Pakistani victim of an acid attack. Photo courtesy of Associated Press, Reporter India

I had the privilege of attending a private screening of Saving Face, the winner of Sunday night's Oscar for Best Documentary (Short Subject), followed by a Q & A with one of the directors, Daniel Junge, and one of the documentary's protagonists, Dr. Mohammad Jawad, a British-Pakistani plastic surgeon whose work the film revolves around. On a quick side note, Dr. Jawad was the also the surgeon who operated on British model and acid victim Katie Piper who recently had her eye sight restored through stem cell therapy. In short, Saving Face is about Dr. Jawad's journey back to his home land of Pakistan where he works to reconstruct the faces of women who have suffered acid attacks by their husbands, other males of close relation, and sometimes even other women. The reasons cited by attackers in many of the countries where acid violence is an issue are multifold- refusal by the women to accept unwanted marriage proposals, basic petty arguments in the house over minor issues, and even attempts to simply pursue education as a woman. The film interviews several survivors of these attacks, mostly women from rural areas, and focuses on two main characters, Zakia and Rukhsana, who are both victims. One of the sub-plots includes Zakia's court case against her husband which she eventually wins through the application of a recently passed Pakistani bill that sentences between 14 years and life in prison, as well as a $14,000 fine for men who are perpetrators of acid attacks. Throughout the documentary, several women's faces are shown, most of which are gruesomely deformed from the attacks and consistently elicited waves of shocked gasps from the audience. I whole-heartedly applaud Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (the other director) for giving these women a voice to the rest of the world, and to Dr. Jawad for using his plastic surgery skills for something other than breast implants (which he says he also does quite well in the documentary). The government of Pakistan, elated at the indirect receipt of an Oscar, has also declared that Ms. Chinoy will be presented with Pakistan's highest civil award upon her return. Continue reading