First Pakistani on the Oscar Stage

With a roar of applause Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy arrived on the Oscar stage, her beautiful shalwar/kameez glittering under the lights. She took the Oscar for the Best Documentary (Short Subject) for a film that tells the story of Dr. Muhammad Jawad, a British-Pakistani plastic surgeon who works to restore physical and emotional health of Pakistani women burned in acid attacks.

The award was given just before 11pm, a time when my eyes usually grow heavy and I wonder if it’s worth while to watch until the end. My second wind came in the form of great pride as the film maker, a Pakistani woman, raised her Oscar on the stage, thanking the Academy and giving a tribute to Pakistani women everywhere, most who would not be watching, but a tribute nevertheless.  Her talent, along with the skill and passion of the doctor who cared enough to make this a real story, not just an idea, were enough to wake me up as I clapped towards the screen.

The film is called “Saving Face” and tells the personal stories of two Punjabi women, the true heroes of the night, Zakia and Rukhsana.  These women survived acid attacks that burned and disfigured their faces. Their heroism is not only about surviving the burns, but that they used this event to fight for the rights of Pakistani women, to fight for justice.

All of these people – the lovely and talented film maker who told the story, not just of the attacks but of resilience, of physical and emotional healing; the physician who used skill and compassion, traveling to Pakistan and bringing along teams to work with him; and the women – brave women who would not let their pain paralyze them; all of these are heroes.

I feel so proud. I have no right to, I have only been a guest in Pakistan, I am not Pakistani, but I feel proud of this accomplishment. Proud as a sort of adopted cousin, maybe even daughter, of Pakistan.  Proud that in the world of film this story has risen to the top. It has been deemed Oscar-worthy and so will receive the attention that it has deserved all along.

So my heart is full. And as the 84th Oscars end, this award will forever be archived in Oscar history and Pakistan has had a chance to shine in a wonderful way.

Pakistan Zindabad!