- Author(s): Mohib Rehman
- When: 2016-12
- Where: The University of New Mexico
This thesis examines the discourse about gender, religion, and culture in four independent films produced in Pakistan between 2000 and 2013 to advocate for women's empowerment: Silent Water and Good Morning Karachi from female director Sabiha Sumar, and In the Name of God and Speak from male director Shoaib Mansoor. I analyzed plot, characterization, dialogues, and visual images to discuss how the filmmakers represented the dynamics of women's oppression, struggle against oppressive agents, and options or solutions for women's empowerment. Further, this project explored the ideological implications of the narratives constructed in the films within the Pakistani society in the post 9/11 context. This historical context is of interest to this study because during this period Pakistanis have engaged a series of debates and national policies that address women's rights, religious extremism, and media liberalization in Pakistan. This narrative analysis suggests that the dominant discourse in the films centers on a critique of patriarchy and Islamic fundamentalism as the main overlapping structures of domination affecting women's status and options. More specifically, the filmmakers construct a representation of women as oppressed primarily by their male relatives (fathers, husbands, sons, cousins). The films advance a critique of patriarchy that intersects with a critical view of religion as male relatives are represented as agents who, motivated by religious beliefs, repress women and in particular of certain practices linked to Islamic fundamentalism and other cultural practices, such as forced marriage and honor killings, as inseparable forces. The discourse represents women as active agents struggling against patriarchal culture and religious fundamentalism to end their oppression within their family and society. The options for empowerment privileged in the films are women's education, to speak out and report to media and the courts the injustices done to them, and to search for their rights within Islam. Filmmaker Mansoor created a discourse that encourages women to seek their rights within Islam and the Pakistani legal system, as his films suggest that the problem is that Islam is misinterpreted by men for the domination of women. Sumar, in contrast, created a discourse that represents women as the victims of men, with little or no choice within the patriarchal culture and conservative society of Pakistan. The ideological implications of these films are divergent. Mansoor's films have idealistic endings that open room to the possibility of empowerment of women within existing national legal and economic reforms like the ones undertaken in the post 9/11 context. Sumar's films have more realistic endings, where women end up victimized, to suggest that there is little space for empowerment within the existing structures and institutions.