Pakistani Documentary ‘A Girl in the River’ Wins Oscar

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Pakistani Documentary ‘A Girl in the River’ Wins Oscar

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Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy poses with her Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject, “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” in the press room during the 88th Oscars in Hollywood, Feb. 28, 2016.

Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

A documentary about honor killings in Pakistan won an Oscar on Sunday night having already spurred the country’s government toward toughening laws to protect women.

“A Girl in the River” is the story of Saba Qaiser, whose father and uncle shot her in the face, stuffed her in a bag and tossed her in a river in rural Punjab province, after she ran away to marry the man she loved. Ms. Qaiser, 18 years old at the time, survived.

The film was the second Oscar for Pakistani producer and director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and won the award for best short documentary.


After its nomination in January but before it being screened nationally, the film caught the attention of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who vowed to to tackle a deeply rooted tradition in the country that sanctions killing women who disobey male elders in matters of love and marriage.

Since 2004, attacks on women over honor have been treated like regular murder and attempted murder. Before, such attacks could be defended as crimes of passion. But the culprits still often go unpunished because they are forgiven by the victim or her family members under an Islamic provision in Pakistani law.

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“Last week, our Pakistani prime minister has said that he will change the law of honor killing after watching this film. That is the power of film,” said Ms. Obaid-Chinoy in her acceptance speech.

Changes to the law would likely meet opposition from some religious conservatives who regard the provisions as basic principles of retribution and forgiveness in Islam.

Mr. Sharif, a conservative politician who usually focused on the economy, said he is determined to press ahead with the legal revisions.

“There is no place for killing in the name of honor in Islam,” Mr. Sharif said Monday in a statement congratulating Ms. Obaid-Chinoy. He added that his government “is in the process of legislating to stop such brutal and inhumane acts in the name of honor.”

In the film, Ms. Qaiser is forced by pressure from her family, in-laws and the village to legally pardon her father, who is released from jail. Once released, her father boasts that he has won more respect from the community. In the film, he says he shot his daughter to restore his honor, adding that his other daughters now won’t dare to disobey him.

Mr. Sharif’s statement said: “Women like Ms. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy are not only a pride for the Pakistani nation but are also a significant source of contribution towards the march of civilization in the world.”

Ms. Obaid-Chinoy won her first Academy Award in 2012 for “Saving Face,” a film about Pakistani women disfigured in acid attacks usually by spurned suitors