Brave female athletes train despite death threats.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Afghan Cycles is a documentary about the obstacles that young Afghani female cyclists face and the threats they endure just for the privilege of training, competing, and riding. As the movie explains, strict adherents to the most conservative sects of Islam see women doing anything outside the home as a violation of religious law, making women subject to severe retaliation if they stray from proper dress and demeanor. The movie follows courageous young women and girls who risk their lives every time they go out to train and compete in their beloved sport. Viewers will see scenes of explosions and their aftermath and hear about violent attacks against women -- including burnings and honor killings. One woman weeps as she recalls her brother, who died in a suicide bombing.
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What's the Story?
AFGHAN CYCLES takes the audience into a world where a woman riding a bicycle is viewed by some as an act of extreme social and religious impropriety. To many Westerners, the bicycle may seem insignificant, but for girls and women barred from education and, in some cases, confined to their homes and restricted to domestic and household duties, biking represents mobility, opportunity, and freedom. The filmmaker cuts between a team of competitive cyclists in urban Kabul fighting anti-female attitudes and another team in a rural area also fighting restrictions on female behavior. For a brief time, things looked more hopeful for women in Afghanistan as more open-minded leaders came to power, but during the filming, from 2013 through 2017, violence and extremism increased, forcing brave young women to question whether they could really help reshape Afghanistan's future into a friendlier place for women's rights. One rider recalls her brother's death in a bombing. Suicide bombings, ritual burnings, and honor killings are still frequent enough events to engender everyday fear as the dedicated women put their lives -- and those of their families -- on the line every time they ride.
Is It Any Good?
The film presents inspiring women who, covered head-to-toe, train to compete in cycling races despite death threats, and for that alone the movie gets high marks. But given Afghan Cycles' important subject, it feels too long and repetitive to be as effective as it potentially could be. The same material rendered more concisely would make for a riveting half-hour. As it stands, the viewer never has a sense of being guided by a steady narrative that's aiming toward some specific place. Instead, the spotlight is diffused as it points to too many women telling essentially the same story. The filmmaker seems to acknowledge this when she eventually chooses to narrow her focus for the last 30 minutes on one woman whose actions epitomize bravery and independence.
It will be up to viewers to determine if the merits outweigh the sometimes repetitive feel. But there's a good chance that privileged young American teens who think they've got problems may appreciate the relative safety of their lives when they visit with women who struggle in their world simply because they are women.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how difficult it would be to leave family and friends in order to live without fear of attack. Do you think you could give up everything comforting and familiar, including family and language, to find freedom?
Why do you think a culture would see female empowerment as a threat to society? How are women treated in Afghan Cycles?
Would you risk your life just to ride a bicycle? Do you think cycling is a metaphor for freedom to live the way some young Afghani women would like to live?
How does this film demonstrate the importance of courage?
- On DVD or streaming: March 8, 2019
- Director: Sarah Menzies
- Studio: Gunpowder & Sky
- Genre: Documentary
- Character Strengths: Courage
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 14, 2022
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