- Megha Mohan
- gender and identity reporter
“You only oppress women,” the girl tells the Taliban fighter.
“I told you not to talk,” he shouted back, “I’ll kill you right here!”
“Okay, kill me!” she answers, raising her voice to match his. “You closed schools and universities! Better kill me!”
This direct confrontation inside a car between the woman and the militant has been secretly and suspiciously captured by a camera phone.
He was arrested after a protest and was about to be taken to a holding cell in Kabul.
This is a scene from the documentary Bread and Roses, which explores the daily lives of three women in the weeks following the takeover.
Producer Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence tells the BBC why this moment in the film is so important to her.
“My heart was beating fast to see these women fighting back against the Taliban,” says Lawrence. “You don’t see this side of the story, everyday in the news women fighting back and that’s one of the features of our film.” The important part is, and these are the stories of these women.”
She says it is devastating to think about Afghan women suddenly losing control.
“They currently have no autonomy within their own country. It is very important for them to be given the opportunity to document their story in their own way.”
The film is produced by Excellent Cadaver, a production company founded in 2018, along with friend Justin Ciarrochi.
“This documentary was born out of emotion and necessity,” says Lawrence, who describes feeling helpless and hopeless about what she was seeing on the news.
Ciarochi says that Lawrence had “a seismic response to the fall of Kabul in 2021 because the conditions were so dire for women”.
“And she said, ‘We have to give someone a platform to tell this story in a meaningful way.
It was Sahra Mani, a documentary filmmaker who co-founded the independent Kabul production company, Afghan Dock House.
Both Lawrence and Ciarrochi had seen her critically acclaimed documentary A Thousand Girls Like Me, a profile of a 23-year-old Afghan woman who, after being shunned by her family and the police, went on to expose sexual abuse by her father. Goes on television.
Ciarocchi tracked down Mani, who said she had already begun a project, following three women in the country as they tried to establish some sort of autonomy in the months following the Taliban takeover. Girls and women were barred from universities and schools.
Mani filmed using hidden cameras, and even asked women to film themselves in safe houses with their friends and families.
Another sequence depicts a secret meeting in a windowless cellar off a side street in Kabul. More than a dozen women sit at rows of desks and chairs, arranged like a makeshift classroom. Steam rises from the beverages in their plastic cups.
They do not know each other but are all from different groups, which protested after the Taliban re-captured Afghanistan in August 2021.
One of the women, a dentist named Zahra, led the audience to this secret meeting. When she talks to the group, she reminisces about wearing high heels and perfume and going to the park with her friends. The women around him smile.
Then a writer named Waheedeh starts speaking.
“Women should write their own history,” Wahideh tells the group passionately to whispers of agreement. “Women are not properly celebrated around the world.”
Mani was well aware of the challenges of making a film in such private and dangerous conditions.
“I understand how to deal with difficulties because I am one of them.
“They are not victims,” she says, “they are heroes.”
But striking the right balance between keeping women safe and telling their story wasn’t easy. She tells the BBC that she, Ciarrocchi and Lawrence had many late-night talks during the production process.
“Whenever I faced any problem or issue, they were there,” says Mani. “When women unite, everything is possible.”
With Mani and the other women now drawn out from all over the country, producers felt comfortable presenting Bread and Roses for wider distribution, starting with Cannes.
Ciarrocchi and Lawrence say their next challenge is to bring the film to a larger audience – not always easy when the story is a snapshot of an ongoing and devastating conflict.
“There’s no end to this story,” Lawrence says, “and you feel very helpless when even thinking about doing anything about it. It’s a hard thing to market.”
As female executive producers, Ciarrocchi and Lawrence are still in the minority in Hollywood. A 2022 study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film showed that women comprised only 24% of directors, writers and producers in top-grossing films, down from 2021.
“I think there’s a long way to go, but when you have more diversity in filmmaking I feel inspired and positive by the end product,” says Lawrence. “It’s what the people want. The audience wants it.”
Ciarocchi says: “That’s why we take so seriously the responsibility of Jane’s platform as a woman who is giving opportunities to other women … to employ women, to tell women’s stories.” always to give employment to a diverse body of people.”
Lawrence replies, “It’s also because I’m a woman.”
“I’m lucky that I don’t have the biased view that women aren’t that good at things!”