Of Afghanistan, we are much more used to seeing images like the ones that opens Ariel Nasr’s feature doc than the ones that follow.
It starts like this. In Kabul’s national stadium, 3 women in burqas are seated in the box of a pick-up truck. Soon, one of them is on the ground, being shot dead for all to see. The bleachers are full. The Taliban are doling out their cruel justice and entertainment.
But the film isn’t about these Pashtun tribesmen and their sharia law. It’s about the life that came after the Taliban’s bitter rule, and the fragile freedom of a group of women, who, against all odds, have picked up the very unlikely occupation of professional boxing.
In Kabul, in the selfsame stadium that once hosted stonings, lashings and executions, these girls train, train and train – determined to fight their way onto an international stage.
The film, which follows the girls to boxing competitions in Vietnam and Kazakhstan as well as though their daily lives in Kabul, focuses on 3 girls as well as their coach, an ex-boxer who’s dream to compete in the Olympics (he was selected for boxing at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics) was foiled by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
It’s refreshing to see women – Afghan women at that – in tracksuits and boxing gloves, running outside and practicing jabs. This in itself feels like a victory. The Taliban, the film informs us, were (and are) against sports in general, but boxing in particular.
All of this freedom, strength and determination come at a price, however, and the film makes no secret of the difficult conditions the girls evolve in.
In the national stadium, the girls train without the benefit of the most basic facilities. In Vietnam, one of the girls says: “It was the first time I had seen a ring, and there I was climbing into it!”
Later, when one of the girls wins a medal, she gets kidnapping threats. After a TV segment about the girls’ boxing team airs on national television, the coach says he fears for his life. The documentary also gives voice to one of the boxer’s brother, staunchly opposed to his sister’s doings.
Even though the road is rocky, and that 3 boxing girls can hardly change the fate of millions, you can’t help but wish that they prevail. Like one says: “They will understand afterwards, when a girl has become a champion. Then they will understand the value of girls.”