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The Power of the Individual in "Shame" from Tribeca

The power of the individual to right wrongs, bring up issues and to literally move a society a few steps further is a message that one cannot hear enough these days. Such is the amazing story of Pakistani human rights activist Mukhtaran Mai, who drew on her own pain and abuse to become a positive symbol for the fair treatment of women (and all human beings). Her amazing story is recounted in SHAME, a documentary film by Mohammed Naqvi, that had its New York Premiere last evening, with the director and the film's subject in attendance.

Her story is a horrific yet inspiring one. During the summer of 2002, in a remote village of Pakistan, 33-year-old Mukhtaran Mai's life changed when the village's tribal council sanctioned a punishment against her for a crime allegedly committed by her younger brother. Following the tribal custom of "honor for honor," Mai was gang-raped and then publicly paraded around as an example. Her family cowered in shame. The village shunned her. Normally the only recourse for such a woman would be suicide. Instead, Mai set out to seek justice and shook the very core of Pakistan's corrupt judicial system. In her quest, she endured public scrutiny and exposure to the alien world outside her village, losing friends, family and her life as she knew it. Throughout this incredible journey, Mai maintained an astonishing resilience and belief in herself.

She has become a symbol, not only in her native Pakistan, but throughout the world, of the insistence of equal treatment of women and the importance of education and resources that allow the young generation to move beyond religious and tribal law and respect every human life. Mai has used her international reputation to build schools, womens' centers and hospitals in her native village and throughout rural Pakistan. Her court cases have created legal precedents that have allowed other women to find justice for the wrongs committed against them.

The film had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival and has been presented at a number of major film festivals since, including the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam and events in Dubai and Kerala (India). The film won an award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival last month and will be presented on the Showtime pay television network at the end of May, which will bring Mukhtaran Mai's story to an even greater public.

For a woman who can still barely read and write, this has been an incredible journey (the film features a surreal sequence of her appearance at a Glamour Magazine awards ceremony where she was honored, in the company of such celebrities as Goldie Hawn, Christiane Amanpour and Brooke Shields......people whose names she did not even know). For the capacity audiences at last evening's screening, who thunderously applauded after the screening, is a source of inspiration to be more aware of the plight of women and children in other cultures, and the power of the individual to foster change against great odds. Bravo to all......

Sandy Mandelberger, Online Dailies Editor

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