There’s a great scene early on in Brishkay Ahmed’s feature documentary debut Story of Burqa: Case of a Confused Afghan where Ahmed speaks with a couple of guys on a Vancouver street. She asks them what they think of the Burqa and their responses are surprising, both saying that the practice of the burqa is unnecessary. Things get stranger when Brishkay travels to Afghan and the surrounding areas and is told, on more than one occasion by a number of highly respected men, that the burqa isn’t even a traditional Afghan garment. So how does such a constricting piece of clothing come to be so important to a culture to which it was imported? The answers aren’t easy or simple but Ahmed sets off to find out and what she discovers along the way is shocking.
Walking the markets of Kabul, watching men coming in and out of a small burqa shop, we learn the details of how the garments are made and we see men, many of them traveling from afar, buying burqa’s for their daughters and wives. Seeing educated men speak of the burqa and its purpose and importance to the culture, it quickly becomes apparent that the controversial garment is a long engrained symbol of control and not some cultural norm long practiced by the people. Ahmed travels the world digging up the history of the burqa, it’s origins and how it eventually came to Afghanistan and her discoveries are eye opening not to mention unnerving.
Though it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that a garment forced on women under the guise of religious necessity is so popular among men, there’s a sense from Ahmed’s interviews that many men aren’t even aware that the burqa isn’t a necessity but rather something that has been forced on the culture from external sources. It’s fascinating, and scary, to see how long this process has taken and how totally it has entered public consciousness.
Story of Burqa: Case of a Confused Afghan uncovers some hard truths and fascinating facts and though a necessary, must see film, it lacks the polish of a project from a more experienced filmmaker. Most of the interviews veer off course from their starting point and though interesting, some of Ahmed’s points are muddled by additional unnecessary information; it’s all very interesting but much of it feels like a stretch from the story Ahmed sets off to uncover.
Though Story of Burqa: Case of a Confused Afghan is a bit rough around the edges, it’s a fascinating film and one that deserves to be seen and discussed. As they say: knowledge is power and this is knowledge that needs to be distributed.
Story of Burqa: Case of a Confused Afghan plays Thursday, May 10th. Screening details at tickets at DOXA.
Fassbender for life.