The Breadwinner has been nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the Academy Awards. The screenplay was written by Anita Doron and Deborah Ellis, and is based on the children’s novel, The Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis. The film is rated PG-13 for thematic material including some violent images. The dialogue is in English. Angelina Jolie was executive producer for this thought provoking and visually striking film. An engaging story, it is about the life of a young girl, Parvana, living with her family in Afghanistan.
Parvana is an 11-year-old girl growing up under the Taliban in 2001. Her father is wrongfully arrested and taken to prison, and this places her mother Fattema, sister Soraya, and baby brother in peril without a man to provide for them. Parvana is ridiculed and threatened by neighbor boys, especially after her father is taken away. She serendipitously meets a friend, Shauzia, who has changed her identity to that of a boy and has become streetwise. Shauzia is willing to help Parvana with a similar deception. Women are not to appear in public without a male, and Parvana finds a way to navigate the job she takes on as breadwinner by cutting her hair and dressing as a boy. She is emboldened by the freedom this gives her.
Within the film is a mythical tale running parallel to Parvana’s story. She tells this story in pieces to her baby brother. Filled with beautiful, evocative imagery, the story Parvana tells her brother and really herself, adds richness to the very real situation that she encounters with no father to care for them. The mythology is really about childhood empowerment, and is a tale she had heard from her father about a boy who seeks to recover the stolen seeds of his village from the Elephant King. There is much danger along the path of this boy’s journey as he tries to retrieve what are rightfully the village’s seeds for the future, much like it is for Parvana, who decides to go to the prison where her father is held and ask for his release.
The story brought to mind another film where a female impersonates a male. A woman yearning for knowledge in a culture that does not support education for women, Yentl dresses as a man in order to study with other scholars and experience a freedom women could not. The film is Yentl with Barbara Streisand in the leading role, and is a tale that takes place in Jewish culture.
The Breadwinner is also in another culture that you might say is quite different from American culture and Christianity. I think it is good to hear these types of stories as it helps us understand other cultures and shows the similarities especially in women’s lives under the subjugation of men, and the discrimination that occurs. Also significant is the part of the story about people just trying to live as a family caught between empires fighting for dominance. I recommend The Breadwinner to you.