I’d like of think of 2017 as a year of awakenings and the rise of women all across the world, especially in the fashion and entertainment arena, as the most dominant factor of the year.
Internationally, 2017 was a year that will be remembered for the Harvey Weinstein scandal that has shaken Hollywood to its core. Countless women came out and accused the media mogul of sexual exploitation over a span of thirty years and the cases against Weinstein triggered several other cases of assault in the film and fashion industries. It was also a year that saw a milestone for women in filmmaking; Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, was the most talked about superhero film of the year (in a year that also saw the release of Justice League, Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 and Spiderman – Homecoming amongst other mammoth releases) and it’s 100 million dollar debut went down in history as the biggest ever movie opening for a female director; quite a milestone.
Bollywood next door was dominated by a roster of mediocre films, with the one Kangana Ranaut making more noise than the average box office release. She completely stole everyone’s thunder, despite the fact her two films – Rangoon and Simran – didn’t fare that well at the box office. To be fair, I’d remember Kangana and the newly born Taimur Ali Khan dominating headlines and social media feeds and on a lighter side, I’d credit Kareena Kapoor’s genes for that baby wonder. On a more serious note, it was also a year that turned a new leaf for Pakistani film actresses in Bollywood. Mahira Khan made her Bollywood debut opposite Shah Rukh Khan in Raees and became the first Pakistani actress to have a 100 crore film to her credit. Saba Qamar picked up acclaim and fanfare for Hindi Medium, Sajal Aly was brilliant in Mom and while relatively understated, Madiha Imam made an impressive debut in Manisha Koirala’s Dear Maya.
Still in Bollywood, actors like Akshay Kumar made films like Toilet and Padman that spoke out for women’s rights in civil society. And moving across the border, back home, I’d also say that 2017 was a year that moved in favour of women. There may not have been specific breakthrough films for women in Pakistan but it has to be said that the year’s highest grosser, Punjab Nahin Jaungi, allowed Mehwish Hayat and specifically Urwa Hocane fantastic screen time. Verna became a comeback vehicle in Pakistani films for Mahira Khan and even though the movie flopped, it relayed a strong message against exploitation of power and sexual abuse.
Any shortcomings in celebrating women in film were overcome on television, which experienced a breakthrough of sorts. While the whimpering ‘bahu beti’ has been popularized on Pakistani television for over a decade (the Haseena Moin brand of stories had long died out), I would hold 2017 accountable for giving a stronger voice to female characters, the strongest cases in point being Saba Qamar’s biographical portrayal of Qandeel Baloch in Baaghi. Mawra Hocane’s Sammi and Mujhe Jeenay Do also aired as plays that raised awareness around women’s issues. The concept of social dramas strengthened to an extent that the Lux Style Awards 2018 have added a category titled Best Drama with a Social Message this year. I’m not sure I agree with the category, as who’s to decide that Sammi has a social message and Khaani doesn’t (I think it does), but this does reflect on the influence of the genre.
Speaking of influential women, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy made Pakistan proud, yet again, for her Emmy win. The Academy Award winner picked up the ‘Best Documentary’ award at the 38th Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness. Another global female icon from Pakistan, the 20-year-old Nobel laureate, Malala Yousafzai started attending classes at Oxford University this year. That may be a personal victory for the young activist, as just five years ago she was shot for attending school in Swat, but it was also a moment of national pride for the country. Another activist I have to mention is Muniba Mazari, Pakistan’s Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, who made Pakistan proud at a global level even though she had to face (even more) trauma on a personal level. In fact, as is the case with most successful women in Pakistan, all three of these icons faced criticism at the hands of misogynists who are always on attack mode over something as insignificant as a woman’s outfit. I’d even include Mahira Khan on the list as her little white dress made more headlines than the larger, more damaging issues the country dealt with. I’d like to think that these women have come out even stronger.
Social messages transcended beyond the realm of film and television and touched fashion too. While 2017 saw very few earth-shattering collections or shows, it was brands like Generation and Ali Xeeshan that made the otherwise elite field relevant to the masses at large. Generation launched a collection called Shehnaz Ki Shaadi, which was more of a campaign and endorsed the marriage of older women. Ali Xeeshan brought attention to girl brides in collections like Bridal Uniform and made a case for prohibiting the marriage of underage girls.
All in all, from TV series like The Handmaid’s Tale to movements like #MeToo, 2017 was a year dedicated to women, which is precisely why the Merriam-Webster has chosen ‘feminism’ as the word of the year. I do hope it has sufficient steam to work its way through 2018 too, paving a better future for women across the world.
- This article was first published in Instep on Sunday, 31/12/17.
- Featured image credit: Hira Humayun