Loosely based on a true story, Osama is a retrospective about how women coped with the Taliban in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The film begins with about one hundred women in light blue burkas demonstrating; banners say that they are widows who want to work, as they are hungry, but also say that they are not “political.” Soon, fire hoses and rifle shots are fired to disperse them. We then see how one family lives after the mother (played by Zubaida Sahar) and her twelve-year-old daughter (played by Marina Golbahari), who had secretly been working in a hospital, are dismissed when the Taliban summarily closes the hospital. Not allowed to work or to go about without a male escort, they are clearly starving. When the mother, a war widow, suggests that her twelve-year-old daughter might pose as a boy named Osama to get education and food, the latter decides to follow the suggestion. After her mother cuts her hair so that she will appear as a boy, she obtains a job in a shop, but the Taliban soon rounds her up for religious indoctrination and military training, though the latter is emphasized more than the former, thus hinting that the regime’s barbarity cannot be attributed to religious fundamentalism. For the rest of the film, directed by Siddiq Barmak, we see the tragic consequences of her decision to engage in cross-dressing as her actual sex becomes increasingly obvious. When the boys are told how to clean their private organs, for example, Osama cannot follow the instructions. We also see a stoning and a trial. A horrifying reminder of the Taliban that the United States supported to fight the Soviet Union, Osama has been nominated by the Political Film Society for an award as best film expose and best film on human rights of 2004. MH

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