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The Boxing Girls of Kabul

Distributed by National Film Board of Canada, 1123 Broadway, Suite 307, New York, NY 10010; 800-542-2164
Produced by the National Film Board of Canada
Directed by Ariel J.Nasr
DVD , color, 52 min.
Sr. High-General Adult
Asian Studies, Sports, Women’s Studies

Reviewed by Rebecca Adler Schiff, College of Staten Island, City University of New York

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 9/27/2012

Skip if you can, then again maybe you shouldn’t, the November 1999 images preceding the titles announcing The Boxing Girls of Kabul, which show three fully covered women trucked into Kabul’s Olympic Stadium, made to squat on the ground, at which point a garbed attendant, finger on the trigger, points his rifle at the head of one of them and…. Mercifully the images stop a second before. Yet they lodge in the mind, as one supposes they’re expected to, how could they not, throughout the film that follows. As if the news of the random carnage taking place in Afghanistan every day weren’t enough to set the scene…. Still, the scene can be astonishingly and unexpectedly inspiring. The film tells the story of some young Afghani women who, defying their country’s patriarchal traditions and the threats of ultra-fundamentalists, engage in the sport of boxing, with both personal aspirations and aspirations for a positive image of their country to result as well. They train, they spend many hours in, you guessed it, Olympic Stadium. The film focuses on three women - Sadaf Rahimi, Shabnam Rahimi, and Shahla Sikandary – all in their late teens, as they train for, travel to, and compete in boxing matches in Vietnam and Kazakhstan, with the hope eventually of representing Afghanistan in the 2012 London Olympics. A kindly portrait emerges of their dedicated male coach Sabir Sharifi, who missed participating in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles because of the Soviet invasion. Living under the Karzai regime but very much in the shadow of the Taliban, the girls not only lack proper training, equipment, and support in order to be able to successfully compete internationally (they promptly lose their matches to stronger, better trained Vietnamese and Kazakhstani women), but are in constant danger of being kidnapped and killed – to say nothing of receiving the stern reproaches of both family members and neighbors. The dangers, needless to say, are very real. One of the girls hears of a recent public stoning of a woman for who knows what offence. And yet the girls’ spirits are for the most part amazingly upbeat – upbeat enough to provide this beautifully made film with a lesson that will be beneficial for viewers to take away.