Matthew Bunkell from the Customer Service team previews this week’s Discover Tuesdays presentation Sonita.
Sonita is Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami’s second documentary feature following 2011’s Going Up The Stairs. Sharing much of its predecessor’s DNA, this Sundance Award winning profile of a young rap artist provides a disturbingly eye-opening portrait of youth struggling to revolt and crossing lines – be they artistic, political, geographical, ethical et al.
Sonita worships the ground modern pop stars walk upon. Evident through her extensive and meticulously curated ring binders of photos of singers such as Rhianna, Sonita spends the majority of her life in deep reveries of her own worldwide musical success. This isn’t surprising considering her days are spent in the turbulent setting of Iran and plagued by memories of her trip from neighbouring Afghanistan.
But Sonita’s interests are not solely of a material nature. The aspiring artist also uses her work to draw attention to the fates of hundreds of thousands of women victim to regressive and patriarchal laws. Using the Internet as a weapon, Sonita’s call to arms reaches thousands around the world who empathise with her plight. But what of those closest to her?
From every front Sonita is met with detractors and obstacles from both legal restrictions and societal taboos. Even attempting to find a studio willing to record her music becomes a testing litigious affair. What should be a celebration of creativity becomes more akin to dealing drugs.
Things take a further turn for the worse with a surprise visit from Sonita’s distant mother. Unsurprisingly, she does not take well to the news of her daughter’s ambitions and attempts to have her moved back to Afghanistan – an act which might mean Sonita cannot return to Iran, to her small collection of supportive friends, effectively crushing any dreams of furthering her musical career.
It is at this point that Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami does the unthinkable: intervenes. Ghaemmaghami tussles with her professional integrity and her moral compass. As a documentarian, she is obligated to stand by and let events take place without tampering with the fates of her subjects. However, her conscience drives her to front the £9,000 retainer for the temporary custody of the young lady – a sum which, ironically, will go towards the purchase of another woman for Sonita’s brother to wed. The treatment of women as commodities is no new idea but Ghaemmaghami’s essential role in the result of the narrative and her acquiescence creates a paradoxical dissonance for the viewer. This conflict, whilst tragic, elevates this film out of its black-and-white ethical standpoint and into more complex territories, isolating the story of one woman and leaving a bitter “what could have been” on a far grander and troubling scale.
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