Arguably my favourite movie at this year’s Reel Asian Film Festival is Yosef Baraki’s Mina Walking. It tells the story of 12-year-old Mina, a strong-willed and wise-beyond-her-years Afghani girl on whose small shoulders fall some of the most trying responsibilities.
As a girl growing up in a Muslim country, Mina is raised to be subservient and she fulfills this role by taking care of her senile and physically ill grandfather while attending school and working an after-school job while her widowed and unemployed father wastes her hard-earned money on his drug habit. Somehow, Mina is not deterred and continues to find reason to keep on living the life she lives and it’s strongly suggested that her opportunity to attend school is the beacon of hope for a better life for herself and her father.
Unlike most female protagonists in movies set in a Muslim country, Mina is a breath of fresh air and a very hopefully example of the variety of Islamic women. Mina proves that more often than not, it’s Islamic culture and not the religion itself that insists on the oppression of girls and women and the inherent superiority of men. Mina reminds us that some Muslim women aren’t docile, sheltered creatures that need saving from the Western world. Though Mina does face her own set of oppressions for being a girl, she is never afraid to stand up for herself as a human being.
When insulted or criticized by her peers, her employer or even her father, Mina doesn’t just sit back and take it, but shouts back, often surprising the receiver by coming up with a retort dripping with harsh truth. My favourite example of this is when her father scolds her for going to school rather than staying home to take care of her grandfather—his own father—and Mina’s response is to remind him that he himself is unemployed and thus has far more time than she does to stay home and care for his own father.
Mina is bold and refuses to be made ashamed of her gender because she has proven that she can handle not only herself, but an entire household before even hitting her teenage years. She somehow has grown to be deaf to those who treat her with sexism and keeps fighting back, even when she doesn’t win. The fact that she managed to speak out is a feat in itself.
Mina Walking is a movie I didn’t expect to like or even find that interesting, but I was so pleasantly surprised. It’s touching and empowering and despite Mina’s hardships, she never really lets you feel sorry for her. More than anything though, it makes me proud to be a woman and to have women like Mina fighting the good fight alongside me.
Mina Walking screens as part of this year’s Reel Asian Film Festival and will play on Thursday, November 12 at 8pm at the Aga Khan Museum.