Around the world, people are grappling with some of the most pressing sociopolitical issues of our time. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism intersect at all points, creating an intricate web of institutionally-enforced oppression that shapes the way that marginalised people navigate their daily lives. For a global arena so technologically advanced, we’re somehow still working overtime to tear down the same archaic systems that have long treated many of us like second-class citizens.
Thankfully, there are communities confronting rampant social and systemic discrimination head on, and women can almost always be found leading the charge — director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy wants us to know each and every one of their names.
Obaid-Chinoy has dedicated her filmmaking career to shining a light on the constant fight of women around the globe against that powers that be. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Obaid-Chinoy’s filmmaking journey began when she was only 14 years old. From an early age, she observed firsthand the sweeping effects of her country’s culture of patriarchy: girls going to separate schools from boys (if they were allowed to go to school at all), peers being roped into marriages, and troubling traditions. Frustrated by what she saw, Obaid-Chinoy threw herself into bringing these injustices out of the darkness and into the light where people would be forced to reckon with the glaring human rights violations, using film as her main vehicle.
The director’s work in film zeroes in on activism, and her extensive resume includes over 30 unique projects, with several of those productions earning her Academy and Emmy awards as well as the prestigious Crescent of Excellence from her home country of Pakistan. Through her decorated filmography, Obaid-Chinoy has established a reputation for telling the unknown stories of the brave people fuelling the world’s most passionate social movements. Obaid-Chinoy wants to elevate these voices, and thus, give their causes the platforms that they deserve.
Today, Obaid-Chinoy announces a new series of short films highlighting five women changing their communities with their activist work. In this YouTube Originals series with the Global Fund For Women, Fundamental takes audiences to Brazil, Georgia, Kenya, Pakistan, and the United States, giving us a front row seat to the game-changing grassroots activism for women, by women.
Refinery29 talked to Obad-Chinoy about Fundamental, the women behind these global movements, and her heart for intersectional activism.
Refinery29: Fundamental shares the stories of five very unique grassroots movements taking place all over the world, but there are so many revolutionary waves going on right now — how did you decide which stories you wanted to tell?
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: “We’re constantly bombarded with images from around the world in the 24-hour news cycle, and sometimes the issues become too much for us to grasp and understand. We wanted to show the optics of working on the front line, and show what they are doing to tackle the issues. Through them, we can also understand what women are going through around the world and really grasp what it means to be a feminist today. We just wanted to do a snapshot of activism around the world.”
How do you approach your storytelling process? Your subject matter isn't the easiest to share with the world.
“When I was growing up, I would watch female journalists on television in the early 1990s, and that was something that inspired me to tell stories. Now, for the better part of two decades, I have created films that are a mirror to society. I want people to be deeply uncomfortable when they watch my work, to be uncomfortable about keeping silent when they see what's happening around them. They play a role when they sit and watch these rules, regulations, and laws be made that allow the victimisation and marginalisation of communities.”
“My work has taken me to countries and people with voices that I want to amplify and help reach a global audience. I have been very fortunate that I have accolades that have given me a voice, and through that voice, I want to amplify the voices of others.”
All five of the narratives shown in Fundamental were powerful, but was there a particular struggle or movement that really spoke to you or that you personally identified with?
“There are moments in each film that I feel really crystallise what these women are trying to achieve. In the face of such adversity, they bring to the table this optimism that one day, they will be able to be themselves.”
What message do you hope that Fundamental delivers to its global audience?
“In one of the films, you’ll see collaboration take place between two communities who you rarely see together. You’ll be able to understand that because both communities face issues that are similar, they work together in that fight because their values are aligned — they’re fighting the same fight.”
“I want people to understand that fundamentalism and violence are not something that take place in far away countries with dictatorships and collapsed economies. Fundamentalism is a state of mind. It can take place in Europe, in the United States of America. I also want people to know that, despite everything that's taking place in the world, there are women who are taking on these systems head on, not knowing if they'll be alive tomorrow.”
“Global Fund for Women has created learning materials for each one of the episodes, and we’re going to be showing these episodes in schools, in community centres, in colleges — not only in the United States, but around the world. The idea is to start important discourse about what it means to be an activist today, to inspire others to become activists, to show them the face of activists, and to take them into the minds of these people. This is more than just a documentary series. It’s meant to educate and empower the next generation.”