This 13-Minute Netflix Movie May Change How You Think About International Women’s Day

Photo: Courtesy of Vice Studios.
Sitara: Let Girls Dream begins with a burst of color and joy. Fourteen-year-old Pari and her little sister, Mehr, are building paper airplanes, launching them off the roof of their Karachi home. As the scrap takes flight, so does the possibility that it could be either of them up there some day, flying over the clotheslines and marketplaces of their hometown. 
But there’s something wrong. A sense of unease lurks behind this innocent-seeming game. It’s in the look Pari gives Mehr when they see their father walking down the street, on his way home for tea. It’s in the way their father hands Pari a beautifully embroidered slipper. It’s in their mother’s downcast and regretful gaze as she watches her eldest, knowing exactly what’s in store for her. And then it hits you. This teenage girl, who reads about Amelia Earhart and yearns to become a pilot, is about to be married to a man her father’s age. Her dreams will remain just that: fantasies and wistful regrets. 
The short film, which arrives on Netflix March 8, International Women’s Day, is directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, a Pakistani-born filmmaker who knows what it’s like to transcend expectations. In 2012, she became the first Pakistani ever to receive an Academy Award, for her short-subject documentary Saving Face, which exposed the brutality of honor killings through the eyes of a survivor. Recently, she launched a YouTube docuseries, Fundamental, shedding light on the stories of five women around the world working to change their communities. 
With Sitara, Obaid-Chinoy hopes to grow awareness about the plight of the estimated 12 million child brides worldwide still being married off each year. Supported by Gucci’s Chime for Change initiative and Equality Now, as well as executive producers Ariel Wengroff, Vice CEO Nancy Dubuc (Refinery29 is owned by Vice Media Group), Gloria Steinem, and Imke Fehrmann, Obaid-Chinoy has already screened the short for hundreds of students across the U.S. and in Pakistan, where girls like Mehr, who is unaware of what is happening to her sister until it’s too late, can learn about the practice and have open conversations with their parents. 
"Sitara reminds us that every day, millions of young girls are forced into child rape, losing their ability to have a life that so many of us take for granted," Wengoff told Refinery29. "International Women's Day is a reminder of the work to be done to provide a better future for the next generation, before the bias of the patriarchy has claimed them. Our girls and boys can be anything they dream of, we just have to continue to remove the barriers."
Ahead of the film’s worldwide release on Netflix, Refinery29 spoke to Obaid-Chinoy about the power of film to change minds.
Refinery29: Where did the idea for this story come from?
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: "I have been thinking for a long time about the fact that young girls, everywhere today still face considerable hurdles in achieving their dreams. And so I began to think about the story of a girl who dreams of becoming a pilot and is robbed of it."
You’ve said Sitara is more than a film for you — it’s a movement. What does that mean?
"Yes! Sitara is more than a film. It’s a movement that we want to start across the world that encourages parents to invest in their girls’ dreams freeing their daughters from the burdens of early marriage."
What kinds of conversation do you hope families will have watching this?
"Young girls everywhere still face considerable hurdles in achieving their dreams. Sitara embodies that struggle; it is the story of Pari, a young girl who dreams of becoming a pilot and is robbed of it. Twelve million girls every year are forced into child marriage, losing their ability to dream. We hope this film gives young people and their families the ability to spark a conversation for a different perspective on what we allow our children to aspire to be when they grow up."
You were the first Pakistani to win an Academy Award, and continue to be a trailblazer for women in film. What do you hope young girls watching your own trajectory will take away from it?
"My team who has worked on the film have one simple hope: that girls around the world will be inspired to achieve their dreams. If Sitara can play a small role in doing that (which we are already seeing happen during and after screenings), it gives us all tremendous joy and hope for the future. We hope it will lead to thoughtful discussions as we also begin screening the film in schools and community centers around the world. We strongly believe that investing in the dreams of young girls will lead to a more equitable world."
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