-Mild Spoilers

Life is hard when you’re a girl. This is true for young girls all over the world whom, without exception, experiences varying levels of restriction and misogyny due to their gender. But for women and girls in Afghanistan, this is painfully exacerbated, the misogyny of religious extremism influencing every single aspect of their lives. Parvana (Saara Chaudry) is one of those girls. Paravana spends her days at the market, peddling goods with her father, Nurullah (Ali Badshah), an unemployed amputee who was formerly a teacher. Each day that Nurullah takes his youngest daughter out with him, he endangers them both, but since he needs her help to keep their family of five fed, it’s a risk that they take every day.

But all of that changes when a former student of Nurullah and current Taliban member, Idrees (Noorin Galamgaus), spots Parvana at the market and, when her father rejects the idea of marrying her to him, Idrees orchestrates Nurullah’s arrest. With her father wrongfully incarcerated for an undetermined amount of time, the family is in dire straits. Parvana’s brother is too young too work, and her older sister, Soraya (Shaista Latif), and mother, Fattema (Laara Sadiq), cannot leave the house without a male escort. Parvana has no choice but to disguise herself as a boy in order to leave the house freely and become the family’s breadwinner.

The Breadwinner is riveting from beginning to end. Though it is a children’s film, this movie does not shy away from uncomfortable topics such as war, wrongful incarceration, religion, and terrorism. We are pulled not just into Parvana’s world, but also her mind. Parvana is intelligent, resourceful, and selfless, but has to operate thus while disguised as a boy, because the world she lives in requires girls to be docile, obedient, seen and not heard. Despite the gorgeous animation, amazing score, and necessary subject matter, The Breadwinner left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.

Based on the best-selling children’s novel by Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner is the byproduct of months of Ellis interviewing women and girls in refugee camps in Pakistan, and then using their stories to compose this work. While Ellis has contributed royalties to Women for Women Afghanistan and UNICEF, a White woman in the West packaging the pain of women under Taliban rule smacks of White saviourism. That the narratives of this marginalized community are being sold in this work of fiction, however good it is. Many will argue that she is raising awareness, but this statement itself infantilizes those who live this life and assumes that they aren’t capable of engagingly telling their own stories.

Despite this (and it took a lot for me to see beyond the aforementioned), The Breadwinner is one of few children’s films that I found to be equally enjoyable for both adults and children, and one that can take children in the West out of the shelter of Ameri-centric media and actually get to them think about the lives people are leading in less privileged parts of the world. I give this one 4.5 stars.


Written by SJWMovieReviews

Intersectional. Feminist. Opinionated. Long-Winded.


  1. At this point in Afghanistan’s history what difference does it make who exposes the terrible abuses of females? It’s vital it be done and by as many people who are willing to do it. When they are more free they can speak for themselves more readily. Your complaint is like complaining your firefighter carrying you out of a burning house isn’t cute enough.


    1. It always matters that marginalized communities are able to tell their own stories. Speaking for or over them, however well-meaning, only further strips them of power. It would have been just as easy for these women to give a platform to an Afghani women to speak her truth.


      1. I appreciate your response and I agree we do have to help facilitate these narrators. But we actually don’t know if it would have been all that possible to give these women a platform. It may have been very dangerous to do so. I am grateful for all who share this burden when it would be easier and more lucrative to tell other stories.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. There are many examples I can give of the change that takes place when marignalized people are given platforms to speak for themselves, but the best in this context is Malala Yousafzai. She is a Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by theTaliban for attending school, and survived. While in recovery, her vocal activism did something that years of Western journalism and third-party narratives could not: it gave a face to that affected group and a voice of not just knowledge of the situation, but experience in living it. This one girl, when given a platform, rose to the occasion, inspired international concern, and changed the tide for schoolgirls all over Pakistan. She got an education and secured an education for thousands of women and girls just like her.

        No one understands a situation better than those who have are currently living it. To reference your earlier analogy: The person screaming for help inside of the burning building is always going to be more passionate, and have a greater investment in being saved, than those watching the fire on television are in seeing them be saved.


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