If 18-year-old Sonita had a say, Michael Jackson and Rihanna would be her parents and she'd be a rapper who tells the story of Afghan women and their fate as child brides. She finds out that her family plans to sell her to an unknown husband for $9,000.
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★★★½ review by Graham Williamson on Letterboxd
A documentary about an aspiring rapper from Afghanistan looking to escape an arranged marriage. I was expecting this to follow the Act of Killing model of enmeshing the protagonist's art with verite footage, and there is a bit of that, but the latter definitely dominates. Fair enough - Sonita is a very charismatic, compelling subject, and her situation is gripping and emotive. The footage of children talking about the thirtysomething men they're pledged to is truly upsetting.
I'd have to see the whole thing before deciding how well director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami balances the different elements of her story; I watched an hour-long cut-down prepared for BBC Four's Storyville strand instead. But you couldn't accuse her of not having enough of a stake in the story, and it reminds us that a humane immigration policy is not a surrender to Islamist totalitarianism - removing young people from a theocratic environment is, instead, the surest weapon against it.
★★★★ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd
Coincidentally this fits in with the theme of the day, as the Women's Marches occur across the world. There aren't many stories of female teenage Afghan rappers on record and Sonita Alizadeh is a force of nature that definitely breaks that mould. It's an emotional story that completely changes course midway through for the filmmakers, shifting from a portrait of an Afghan immigrant in Iran faced with being sold for marriage, into a rescue mission.
The never ending cycle of abuse Afghan women face in order to pay dowry, which in turn enables their parents to 'buy' a wife for their male children, is seen not only through Sonita but the weary worn down acceptance of tradition in her elders. Sonita dreams of Michael Jackson and Rhianna, dropping rhymes to friends that reflect their own bleak situation, offering hope. Aside from waiting to be sold off by her visiting mother, the possibility of recording as a female artist in Iran is near on impossible. Another unexpected dimension to ponder are the longstanding ethics of documentary making, in taking a decision to stand back to record the unfiltered truth or becoming involved when your help could dramatically improve the shape of someone's life.
★★★★½ review by michail on Letterboxd
It's films like these that reinforce my love for documentaries. Watching this the day after Mustang I found many similar themes between the two and while both are powerful, there's an emotional investment in the life of Sonita that I couldn't elicit for the characters of Mustang solely for the fact that Sonita is the story of a real human being. To simplify what's good about this film in two winning qualities: it deals with current and significant issues surrounding women's rights, and it does so through a very compelling, real and personal story of an ambitious young woman.
★★★★½ review by Ken Rudolph on Letterboxd
Sonita was a young Afghani girl living illegally in Iran. In this suspenseful and inspiring documentary it is disclosed that she was an accomplished rapper (it is illegal for women to sing in Iran) whose mother traveled from Afghanistan to Iran to insist that her daughter submit to the family by returning home to an arranged marriage so that her older brother could use her marriage settlement of $9,000 to buy his own bride. This documentary tells of the amazing strength, wisdom and luck of this young girl as she fought back against custom with her music and her actions. As she interacted on screen with the Iranian woman filmmaker, the viewer is alternately terrified for Sonita and elevated by her creativity and courage. This is one of the better documentaries you'll see this year.
★★★★ review by Tom King on Letterboxd
A powerful documentary about an Afghan teenager who overcomes adversity and tradition - much of it perpetrated by her own family - to pursue her dream of becoming a rapper. It's an extremely moving story, but almost more exciting is the potential for where she can go from here.
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