Osama (Afghanistan)


COUNTRY: Afghanistan

DIRECTOR: Siddiq Barmak

LANGUAGE: In Dari with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes

RATING: Unrated




. Chapter’s Key Themes: Gender discrimination; Children’s rights

. World History: Afghanistan: land in crisis; Major religion: Islam; Taliban

. Geography: Afghanistan; Pakistan

. Economics: Supply and demand: Drugs

. Civics, Citizenship and Government: Theocracy; Women’s rights; Education


. World Literature: Historic fiction and historic film; Folktales: Arabic oral


. Media Studies: Cinematography Techniques: Symbols, irony, light, color,

character foil; Comparative media: Documentary; Cinema as a reflection of culture; Cinema as a reflection of politics; Art imitates life

. Creative Writing/Critical Thinking: Policy paper

. Art: Carpets


Osama was directed by Siddiq Barmak; screenplay by Siddiq Barmak; produced by Siddiq Barmak, Julia Fraser and Julie Lebrocquy; cinematography by Ebrahim Ghafuri; edited by Siddiq Barmak; production design by Akbar Meshkini; music by Mohamed Reza Darwish; and released by United Artists in 2003. (83 minutes)

Osama…………………………………………… Marina Golbahari

Espandi……………………………………….… Arif Herati

Mother……………………………………………Zubaida Sahar

The mark of a great film is if it lives inside you long after you’ve seen it. Great films don’t die, for they are not a victim of taste or time. Such a film is Osama.

Hillary Clinton showed Osama in November 2004 to members of the Senate when she was a Junior Senator from New York. She wanted to apprise her colleagues how the U.S. would support free elections in Afghanistan. Colin Powell, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, screened the film at the UN’s Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium on March 17, 2004 as he briefed 191 Ambassadors why the United States will increase its military presence in Afghanistan. The film served as a stimulus, and reminder, to show the impact cinema can have to educate and encourage action.

Osama’s mark as an important cinematic contribution is that the inner core of the film’s human story is as strong as the outer level of technique. The film’s message reflects how art and life intertwine. And in doing so, it transposes the viewer to another country and serves as a window to an unknown world. After such a journey, the viewer unravels the mystery of a different culture and tries to understand.


. As early as 1979, the Americans train the “Mujahideen” forces as part of the American Cold War strategy under President Carter. This group is trained in Pakistan and is comprised of discontented Muslims who oppose the atheism of the Russian Marxist regime in Afghanistan during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, 1979-1989.

. As a result of the fighting between the Soviet Republic and Afghanistan, the Russians lose and are forced to leave Afghanistan; many Afghans escape to take refuge in neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Tajikistan. However, in Afghanistan, fighting continues among the various Mujahideen factions, eventually giving rise to a state of warlords and feudal tribes. Mujahideen factions become a group of terrorist militants operating in Kashmir and Pakistan and are engaged in “Jihad” – war against Christians and Jews.

. When the Russians leave in 1989, the U.S. and its allies do little to help rebuild war-torn Afghanistan and the rebel Mujahideen forces take advantage by taking power.

. There are different factions of these Mujahideen rebels and in turn they fight with another group, the Taliban, who are mostly from the Kandahar region located on the border of Pakistan. The Taliban fight the Mujahideen from 1989 to 1996. The Taliban seizes the capital, Kabul, and rules Afghanistan from 1996 to 2003. At the peak of their power in 2000, the Taliban controls 95% of Afghanistan.

. As of May 1996, the American government believes that Osama bin Laden is living at the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan along with other members of Al Qaeda, operating terrorist training camps in a loose alliance with the Taliban.

. After September 11, 2001, the U.S. launches an operation in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban for they are giving refuge to Al Qaeda leaders, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Muhammad Omar.


a. The film, Osama, can be viewed as an example of gender discrimination. Discuss what that means.

. Gender discrimination is unfair treatment against one person or a group because of prejudice about race, religion, age, sexual orientation, or gender.

. The events of September 11th focused the world’s attention on the medieval brutality of the Taliban and, more specifically, on its policy of gender apartheid in Afghanistan.

All the policies suppressing women were brutally enforced by the Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice (PVSV), which administered lashings and public beatings to disobedient women.

b. During the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan, Afghan women experienced restrictions and violations of women’s rights. What are some examples of these?

. Women had to wear long burqas, robes that cover the entire body from head to toe with only a slit for the eyes. They were banned from jobs. Girls were forbidden to attend schools. No woman could leave the house unescorted by a man from her family. No female could get medical care in a hospital or deliver a child in a hospital. Women who resisted government edicts were punished instantly.


a. The filmmaker, Siddiq Barmak, filmed Osama in 2003 in Kabul at the time the Taliban’s power was weak in the capital.

b. Osama is the first film shot entirely in Afghanistan since the rise of the Taliban in 1996. It is inspired by true events about the horrors of the fate of women living under Taliban rule.

c. In its accuracy, this film resembles a documentary where history and creative narrative intermix; however, it is a feature film – the storyline is fictional, even though it is realistic.

d. Osama is the story of a 12 year-old girl who is disguised as a boy by her mother, a widowed nurse, so she can work to provide food for her mother and grandmother.  She succeeds for two days, but when she is herded into the local Taliban school for boys, it is only a matter of time until she is found out. Her plight is realistic and frightening. The film ends with a haunting scene of how a young girl’s life in Afghanistan during Taliban rule, shows that she has nothing to live for, and her entire life will be tormented by this nothingness.



1. What has happened in Afghanistan since September 11, 2001?

How was Afghanistan involved with the September 11th attacks on the United States?

Suggested Activity:

. Students can divide into groups to do research on the Internet about Afghanistan’s history.


. The War in Afghanistan (2001–present) starts in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks on the United States and began the American campaign in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and to find Al Qaeda’s leaders. The Afghan Northern Alliance provides the majority of ground forces, while the U.S. and fellow NATO members provide support. The officially stated purpose of the invasion is to destroy Al Qaeda and deny them sanctuary and freedom of movement within Afghanistan and to remove the Taliban regime which provides support and haven to Al Qaeda.

. The UN Security Council has issued sanctions against the Taliban that center on financial and military restrictions to encourage them to turn over bin Laden to appropriate authorities for trial in the deadly bombings of two U.S. Embassies in Africa in August 1998. However, the Security Council’s strategy has not been successful.

. The Taliban rules from 1996-2003. In 2003, the American and NATO troops force them out of the capital, Kabul, and they regroup at the border-area of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

. In 2004 the American government supports a Council of Elders to ratify a new Constitution and Hamid Karzai is elected President in the first free election in Afghanistan since 1973.

. In 2005, the parliament is created with the aim of diversifying representation as an example of democracy.

. In 2006, we see a resurgence of the Taliban.

. In 2009, the American government and NATO have increased their military at this border tribal area.

. By 2014, the American military plans to transfer security duties to the Afghans.


1. Discuss which scenes in the film show restrictions placed on women by the Taliban.

Suggested Activity:

. Students can discuss why such restrictions occurred. Was there any opposition by the characters in the film?


. During the Taliban’s seven-year rule, Afghan women experience restrictions on their freedom:

. Women are banned from jobs and from earning money. (In several scenes, Osama’s mother complains that she is not allowed to work.)

. Women are not allowed to appear in public without a male member of the family as an escort. (In the film, we see women “hide” – either at home or behind a burqa.)

. Women are not allowed to speak to a man. (In the hospital scene, a man identifies Osama’s mother as his wife to protect her from getting in to trouble for being alone. The Taliban soldier yells at him, “So why do you let her talk to a man?”)

. Women are not allowed to be treated in a hospital for non-emergency care. (In the hospital scene, we do not see any female patients.)

. Women can not work /help in a hospital. (We see Osama’s mother in the hospital where she is furtively trying to help a patient so she can earn money.)

. Foreign women, especially western women, are not allowed in the country for they are a pernicious influence. (In the hospital scene, a soldier of the Taliban surveys the room and asks, “Any foreign women here?” Then we see a French doctor/nurse being arrested. She is the one who is stoned at the end of the film.)





a. Gender discrimination:

. After the hospital scene, Osama returns with her mother to their house. The mother cries to the grandmother, “I wish I had a son and not a daughter so he can get food for us.” The grandmother responds, “A woman with short hair looks like a man.”

Suggested Activities:

. Students can discuss why Osama is forced by her mother and grandmother to take on the role of a boy. What is Osama’s attitude?

. The class divides into groups to discuss gender discrimination and the following headlines that have appeared in newspapers:

“Women of Jordan Demand the Right to Vote.”

“Property Inheritance Limited for Women of Pakistan.”

“Women in Nepal Form Alliance to Increase Political Representation.”

“Women in Saudi Arabia want a Driver’s License.”


. In certain societies, there are rules that delegate one sex over the other to take significantly inferior and secondary roles.

. Unfair discrimination usually follows gender stereotyping held by a society that encourages differences of economic opportunities for men and women.

. Gender analysis can be defined by the “productive” and “reproductive” roles that women and men perform in society. Traditionally, reproductive roles are mostly attributed to women and productive roles to men. But in many cultures and societies, this is changing. And change often does not happen without tension.

. In Afghanistan during the Taliban, gender discrimination was obvious. Even those members of society who did not support gender discrimination, took care to keep women at home because of security reasons. (We see this in the scene when Osama’s mother goes to the store of her husband’s friend and he hides her for her own safety.)

. Gender discrimination in Afghanistan continues to exist in areas of health, education and employment opportunities. Regarding health, Afghan women have the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world due to the rule that Afghan hospitals do not take care of women during and after childbirth.

b. Children’s rights:

. One of the strongest scenes of Osama is the last scene. Osama, the child, is forced to become a woman. Under the Taliban, girls are sold when they are young, and often resold when their husbands tire of them. In the film, we see two scenes of child brides:

. Osama and her mother help their neighbor at a wedding ceremony and we see the bride’s face as she moves her scarf. She is a mere child wearing lipstick.

. Osama’s life is spared after her trial but is she truly saved? She is “sold” to Mullah Sahib.

Suggested Activities:

. Students can form a round table to discuss which countries around the world traffick girls as young as seven and eight years old, to be brides. (Include: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Moldova, Ivory Coast, and African countries.)

. Students can use the Internet to research if they can find any letters written by child brides or young girls who have been kidnapped and sold.

. Students can decide what they will do with their findings.

. The following document is from an article in “The Washington Post,” December 13, 1997, Page A. 01. (The practice of forcing young daughters to marry older men has come under increasing assault when a 12-year-old girl killed her 30-year-old husband.)

Students can analyze and discuss this D.B.Q.:


By Stephen Buckley

KORHOGO, Ivory Coast—

It is just after noon, and inside, in a steamy square room no larger than a prison cell, Aisha Camara is covered in a pink-and-white striped blanket. She briefly lifts a veil that hides her angular features. Her neighbors are celebrating her wedding day. The 10-year-old is not smiling.