Hot Docs 2022: ‘And Still I Sing’ Is a Tale of Progress and Resistance in the Face of Impending Tragedy

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Still I Sing - But Why Tho

Months before the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan in 2021 and destroyed years of social progress, particularly in the women’s rights field, two talented young women sought to break down barriers using their voice as a weapon. The excellent documentary And Still I Sing, directed by Fazila Amiri, tells us the story of Zahra Elham and Sadiqa Madadgar, two friends fighting against the stigmas of their society to try to win Afghan Star, a hugely popular American Idol-style singing contest, amidst a landscape of social oppression, death threats, and growing political fear.

Zahra and Sadiqa are not the only subjects of the documentary. Amiri also follows the renowned artist Aryana Sayeed, who in addition to being a judge on Afghan Star, is a brave and honest activist constantly trying to open doors for women in Afghanistan regardless of putting her own life at risk. And Still I Sing shows us how, despite all her fame, Sayeed still has to fiercely fight back against decades of misogyny.

But as Zahra and Sadiqa draw closer to the Afghan Star finals, and by extension to achieve their dreams of becoming renowned artists, peace negotiations with the Taliban stall. As a spectator, you are fully aware that the documentary is a ticking time bomb and that everything these young women have fought for is about to disappear. Amiri uses this grim and perennial foreshadowing to first display, with enormous power, the promising presence of the Afghan woman and the impetus of society to empower them; and then, to point out how deeply and terribly tragic the return of the Taliban and its regressive culture is. By showing the ‘before’, Amiri potentiates the catastrophic impact of the present in the fight for women’s rights in the country.

In the midst of social unrest and death threats against the three singers for the mere fact of going on stage, the power of sisterhood strongly resonates. Even though they are technically competitors, Zahra and Sadiqa never stop supporting each other in every way possible. They practice together, cheer each other up before going on stage, and share tips to move forward. Sayeed is always there too, elevating their work and providing important motivation during the competition. The three use their talent to fight for Afghan women and become symbols of change.

Although the form of And Still I Sing is conventional, its execution is rich, as Amiri effectively captures the empowering spirit and strength of the three women, as well as society’s appetite for progress. The filmmaker took full advantage of her high degree of access, both to the Afghan Star show and to the lives of her subjects, to create powerful and compelling portraits of women fighting for a better future. However, the film could have benefited from a tighter editing or a deeper exploration of certain themes it only suggests, such as the legacy of Afghan artists.

“When it comes to women’s rights, according to them, women should not even exist,” says Sayeed after her dramatic escape from Afghanistan caused by the sudden return of the Taliban, which has brought with it the prohibition of women working, the closure of girls’ school, activists arrests, and forced displacement. This is why Amiri’s work is so important: And Still I Sing is an invaluable testimony of how totalitarianism is capable of destroying the progress of society in the blink of an eye.

But it is also an exhibition of female courage and resilience, of how the minds of the new generations, those who never lived under the Taliban yoke until now and grew up believing in education, freedom, and progress, will not be easily conquered and defeated by this inhuman and regressive movement that is trying to placate them.

And Still I Sing had its world premiere at Hot Docs 2022.


And Still I Sing
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

“When it comes to women’s rights, according to them, women should not even exist,” says Sayeed after her dramatic escape from Afghanistan caused by the sudden return of the Taliban, which has brought with it the prohibition of women working, the closure of girls’ school, activists arrests, and forced displacement. This is why Amiri’s work is so important: And Still I Sing is an invaluable testimony of how totalitarianism is capable of destroying the progress of society in the blink of an eye.