Reading, writing, and skating give the girls of Kabul more than hope
Afghanistan is one of the worst places in the world to be a girl. So says one of the opening title cards in this short film, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject at the 2020 Academy Awards.
Their unofficial motto is to be brave – and not the kind of hashtagged “brave” social media influencers like to throw around. Their bravery is leaving the house, going to school, learning to read, asking questions, and jumping on a skateboard.
Since then the school has expanded to include outposts in Cambodia and South Africa, but this documentary, directed by Carol Dysinger, looks at the girls and women of Kabul’s Skateistan.
The girls of Skateistan, which is supported by the international skating community, talk frankly to the camera about never wanting to grow up “so I can skate forever”, they stick their hands up in class so they can answer a question and they squabble like any other kid over who gets which pair of sneakers for their skate lessons. Their mothers join in, too, wishing nothing more than for their daughters to be able to finish school and university. To have the kind of choices they never had.
The scenes of the girls learning to skate, their helmets strapped over their head scarfs, and the persistence of their tough-love instructor and former student Hanifa, is thrilling in a very lo-fi way. Watching them build confidence to skate down the large ramps in their indoor skate school, while bickering with their classmates, is joyful.
The girls are so charming and disarming, it’s easy to go along with their dreams and forget the reality of their situation. Because while they talk of wanting to become eye doctors or champion skateboarders, it’s the extraordinary teachers and the staff of Skateistan who frisk the girls for explosives every day and talk about nearby bombings and the threat of the girls being kidnapped and harrassed on their way to school.