“If there’s money she will listen.” says eighteen-year-old Sonita Alizadeh while responding to a question regarding if she is fearful of an upcoming conversation with her mother. An Afghan refugee living in Iran, Sonita dreams of pursuing a career in the music industry. Unfortunately, her family back in Afghanistan wants her to marry so that they can collect the $9,000 dowry that has been arranged. Caught between her desires and an oppressive tradition, Sonita expresses her rage the only way she knows how, through her rap music.
Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s Sonita shines a light on a society where money and tradition are intertwined. Maghami provides an intimate portrait of a teenager desperate to break the chilling cycle in which women are literally beaten into submission. In the film’s most powerful moment, the complex nature of the clash between personal freedom and old world views hits home when Sonita’s mom sits down to chat with a Tehran social worker. In their tense conversation her mother coldly admits that, in her mind, money and tradition have already sealed Sonita’s fate.
The audience cannot not help but feel for Sonita’s plight in moments like these. A moving film, Sonita does hit a few rough patches when the lines between objective observer and active participant begin to blur. Maghami inadvertently becomes a key figure in the story, but never really acknowledges the way in which her involvement drastically changes the narrative. Fortunately, Sonita’s activist spirit is so endearing that it allows the film to soar above its occasional shortcomings. Regardless of where her rapping may take her in life, Sonita’s courage is an inspiration to us all.
Saturday, April 30, 6:30 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre
Sunday, May 1, 4:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Friday, May 6, 3:45 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.