"A young girl in war is the most vulnerable thing in the world." Angelina Jolie and Nora Twomey's The Breadwinner
There are few countries in the world where it is harder to be a young girl, where barriers between girls and their dreams and their rights are so high and so painful to experience and observe.” The words of Angelina Jolie as she unleashed The Breadwinner on the world – the second film she’s made within a year about the experiences of a young girl caught up in war. First They Killed My Father, which she directed, occurs during the genocide in Cambodia of 1978.
Jolie produced The Breadwinner, which is the creative vision of triple Oscar nominated Irish director Nora Twomey (you may know her from The Song of Kells and Secrets of the Sea) and in turn it’s based on a much-loved Canadian bestseller of the same name by author Deborah Ellis. She created the character of Parvana, an 11 year old girl who, after he father is unjustly imprisoned by the Taliban, disguises herself as a boy so her mother and sisters won’t starve (Afghan women under the rule of the Taliban aren’t allowed out of the house without a male guardian.)
"It’s a story of our times and a story of a world in which equal rights for women remain a central burning issue of our time.” Angelina Jolie
“There is no one so vulnerable on the earth as a young girl in war,” Angelina Jolie says emphatically. “We cannot give enough attention or focus to the subject.”
The Breadwinner is set in 2001, which most readers will know was a significant year for Afghanistan. Yet Angelina stresses that it’s a story about family, “about a girl who loves her daddy, while at the same time not being “just Afghan story. It’s a story of our times and a story of a world in which equal rights for women remain a central burning issue of our time.”
"The fact she (Parvana) has a positive outlook and doesn’t lose hope triumphs over the harsher scenes which adults may worry will stick with children, and that they’ll get upset about it. But the hope sticks instead. They aspire to be just like her.” Nora Twomey
The Breadwinner, while full of Afghan inspired art and music, doesn’t spare the punches of what life is like for girls and women under a repressive religious regime. Nevertheless, as teenage actress Saara Chaudry explains (she voices Parvana) the central character is “so full of spirit and determination that when I first read the books, at nine years old, I just wanted to be like Parvana, to have her attitude on life.”
“Parvana’s determination and positivity has stuck with me too,” Nora Twomey agrees. “When you see this young girl on screen disguising herself as a boy, you see that she is facing very serious issues. The fact she has a positive outlook and doesn’t lose hope triumphs over the harsher scenes which adults may worry will stick with children, and that they’ll get upset about it. But the hope sticks instead. They aspire to be just like her.”
Parvana’s father is a bookseller and a letter writer, who is hauled off for prison. Noting soberly that repressive governments always target “intellectuals” first, Nora says, “information is dangerous, information is power and it gives you the ability to understand your history. They do come for those with education first, as education is a powerful thing.”
The Breadwinner, which was nominated for an Oscar this year for Best Animation, does its job - telling an extraordinary story without preaching, yet rendering it impossible for anyone with a care for a girl's future to carry on ignoring the poverty of choices facing girls hampered in life simply by their birthplace.
Angelina Jolie continues to work with projects that give education to Afghan girls, and urges people even living in first world countries, “to reach out to your neighbour, especially if they are different.” Her director agrees.
“We need to work very hard to understand different cultures and where they come from. The generation this film is aimed at may understand already you can ask questions and there will be no easy answers – the film doesn’t provide those. But if the film at least provokes the questions then it will have done enough.”
The Breadwinner is released in the UK on May 25, 2018