By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
This is a far cry from Marking’s first documentary short, 2007’s The Crippendales, which told the story of a group of British war veterans, including a victim of an IRA bomb blast, who want to do the full monty and try stripping for a living. In Afghan Star, the two men and women Marking filmed for three months are crippled by different elements: Rafi, 19, lives in a house with no electricity; Hameed, 20, is Hazara, one of Afghanistan’s most historically oppressed tribes; and Lima, 25, is from ultrareligious Kandahar. With henna-stained hands, she speaks of having to hide her music sheets and computer from the Taliban. In fact, Kabul runs on a few hours of electricity a day, and only 50 percent of households own a TV, which makes watching the tube in cafés and markets a communal experience completely foreign to us Westerners.
The film’s controversy, however, centers on Setara, 22, who, after being voted off, performs her final song while dancing with her head uncovered. This simple yet most un-Islamic act of defiance has clerics condemning her on TV, and locals in her hometown casually calling for her head. Amid false reports of her death, Setara returns to her family, even more defiantly convinced that people will eventually be coming around.
And indeed, they are. Afghan Star’s last season drew 15 female contestants. But, Marking insists, that is as much a personal choice as it is a sign of progress. “If women get more and more confident at that rate, that really shows a lot. But it has to come from inside. The women themselves have to feel safe. There’s still a big risk, but people are beginning to think that it’s worth that risk. The fact is, Lima and Setara both survived. It sounds ridiculous, but eight years ago they would’ve been stoned to death. It’s almost impossible for us to comprehend that kind of change. The progress itself is happening because of the show. My film isn’t gonna add to that debate. The debate is happening.”
Afghan Star opens this week in Los Angeles and New York.