A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Promotes importance of perseverance, literacy, storytelling, and knowing your history. Also shows how difficult it is for girls and women to live in societies where they're routinely mistreated, harassed, and disrespected. Teaches power of close family ties and the fact that women and girls can contribute much to society if given the chance.
Positive Role Models
Parvana is curious, intelligent, and courageous. She's willing to put herself in danger to help her family. Her father quietly defies the Taliban by continuing to teach his daughters how to read and about the country's ancient history and legends. Shauzia is a good friend to Parvana and also risks the extreme consequences of pretending to be a boy. Parvana's mother finds strength in protecting her children.
Movie centers on empowered women who support and protect their loved ones in the face of Taliban repression and domination. Emphasizes the Afghan experience while also helping Western observers relate to that experience through the use of a parallel fable. However, both the author of the source material and the filmmakers are White and Western, which severely limits the film's ability to give a nuanced critique of Taliban oppression.
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Violence & Scariness
Frequent tension and danger. Male Taliban soldiers and followers threaten Parvana's father. Later, the Taliban brutally removes him from their home. Her mother is cruelly beaten; the actual beating takes place off camera, but her bruised black eye and feet are visible. Men/soldiers threaten and pursue Parvana and push and strike her, even though she's dressed as a boy. Parvana strikes a young Taliban follower with a gun and fires into a hiding spot. Chaos and violence erupt at a prison; armed men seem to be shooting at prisoners, and one man is shown shot in the shoulder (it's unclear whether he survives). A man pulls a knife on Parvana's mother and sister and, in a fraught scene, seems to be willing to kidnap their baby brother. A story-within-the-story features skeleton ghosts, attacking jaguars, and an evil elephant king.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
References to very young women being married off (it's made clear that those in charge think women have no role other than as daughters, wives, and mothers in the home).
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Insults and threatening language like "crazy," "undercooked," "enemy of Islam," "old man," "stupid girl," etc.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Breadwinner is a beautifully animated drama from the co-director of The Secret of Kells that's set in Afghanistan. Based on the young adult novel by Deborah Ellis, it centers on an 11-year-old girl who's forced to pretend she's a boy after her father is imprisoned. The movie heartbreakingly captures the violent, anti-women, anti-intellectual, and even anti-literacy stance of the Taliban regime. Women are harassed and beaten for not covering themselves properly, being in public without a husband/father, and drawing attention to themselves. Taliban soldiers and followers intimidate and threaten characters and keep one imprisoned. A few mild insults pepper the dialogue ("crazy," "stupid," "enemy of Islam," etc.), but it's the realistic violence that's most likely to upset younger viewers. There's also a story-within-the-story in which skeleton ghosts, attacking jaguars, and an evil elephant king figure prominently, but it's not as frightening as the mistreatment of people (particularly girls and women) under Taliban rule. And, ultimately, themes of perseverance, curiosity, and courage prevail. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This gorgeously animated film is a poignant reminder of the violence that girls and women face in patriarchies. In The Breadwinner, Parvana disguises herself as a boy not to fight or receive an education, as with similar stories like Mulan or Yentl -- but just to survive. The film shows the severe restrictions placed on women, and even men. But it's important to note that the people behind The Breadwinner -- directors, producers, and the author of the novel it's based on -- are all White, crafting a narrative that relies on the ideology and values of White, Western feminism. While this ideology can rightfully condemn Taliban patriarchy in some ways, it carries a lot of ethnic and colonial baggage of its own.
The fable within the film, which has a different look than the rest of the animation, smoothly translates the Afghan experience for Western audience members. It mirrors Parvana's own role in rescuing her family from certain doom. Her perseverance under unthinkably tense conditions is remarkable; it's an inspiration for her melancholy mother and sheltered older sister. The movie's subject matter might be too intense and the violence too realistic for very young viewers, but tweens and young teens aware of, say, Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai's story, should find it fascinating and educational. Like Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon's previous big films (The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea), The Breadwinner blends folklore with realism and ultimately shows how children are far braver than some might think.
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