An extraordinary film by Fazila Amiri, “And Still I Sing” is the harrowing story of three female singers from Afghanistan who courageously use their voices to stand up for women’s rights in the country despite threats of violence and even death.
Zahra Elham and Sadiqa Madadgar, contestants on “Afghan Star”—Afghanistan’s hit version of “American Idol,” fight against oppression and misogyny as they compete to become the show’s first female winner.
Mentored by trailblazing pop singer and “Afghan Star” judge Aryana Sayeed, “And Still I Sing” follows their heroic personal journeys in a society not always open to hearing their voices or views. Factor in the tumultuous time-frame of the American troop withdrawal and the Taliban takeover and what you have is a dramatic saga that will leave you riveted and inspired by female strength and the fortitude of brave Afghan women to keep on keeping on.
Much of the film focuses on the stories of Zahra and Sadiqa. Viewers learn about the backlash the young women have faced from their communities and families for taking part in the television show. Their friendship, more like a sisterhood, becomes even stronger as they confront harassment and ridicule being in the public eye while following their dreams and finding their footing into adulthood. The women are very independent and there is a subtle underlying tension that builds throughout the film as to how that’s going to play out in the male dominated society where women have too often been denied certain basic freedoms.
Aryana Sayeed is a brilliant figure in the film who knows all to well what life looks like without those freedoms.
Pop music was banned by the Taliban during their previous reign from 1996-2001. As one of Afghanistan’s most famous pop stars, Sayeed received countless death threats and fled the country before returning after the regime’s fall.
In “And Still I Sing,” Sayeed is a strong advocate for women and is a true ally and friend to Zahra and Sadiqa providing them with support and a role model who believes in them and the potential of all women in Afghanistan.
One of the visually interesting aspects of “And Still I Sing” is seeing glimpses of a modern Afghan society blending with the older traditional elements. Western influences like a bowling alley in Kabul is a rather surreal sight to take in. Even though it’s a brief scene it feels like a bigger and more symbolic moment—women freely having fun playing a sport in a public space in the company of men. There are numerous other moments like this, Sadiqa boxing for instance, that may seem simple at first, but in retrospect, knowing how short-lived such freedoms were before the Taliban retook control in 2021 and banned them again is profound. Even the mere sight of Zahra and Sadiqa walking unaccompanied down the street now seems noteworthy.
Though the film centers on the three women, Amiri has created a larger remarkable portrait that speaks to the valiant perseverance of women in Afghanistan and across the world who strive to be heard and seen. After watching “And Still I Sing,” you won’t forget their voices and what they’ve endured and continue to fight for.
See “And Still I Sing” screening at Sheffield Doc Fest June 26th, 27th, and 28th.