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“I’m not crying because I’m on my period or anything! I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar,” 25-year-old Iranian-American director Rayka Zehtabchi said in her acceptance speech after winning the Academy Award for best documentary short Period. End of Sentence. Her speech highlighted how the taboos around periods are a global issue, and not just in India where the film is set.
The film, which is streaming on Netflix currently, was created by The Pad Project, an organization established by students at the Oakwood School in Los Angeles and their teacher Melissa Berton, who also served as producer, while India’s Guneet Monga served as executive producer via her Sikhya Entertainment banner, which has produced such breakouts as The Lunchbox and Masaan.
Period. End of Sentence revolves around a group of women in Kathikera village near the town of Hapur — about 70 miles away from India’s capital Delhi in the state of Uttar Pradesh — who battle patriarchy to set up a cost-effective pad making machine pioneered by Arunachalam Muruganantham, who is considered India’s “Pad Man.” Muruganantham, who makes an appearance in the film, invented the machine after he realized the troubles his wife was facing due to the lack of affordable sanitary pads for rural women. His story also inspired the Bollywood film PadMan starring Akshay Kumar which was co-produced by Sony Pictures Entertainment India.
The taboos around menstruation in India and the lack of hygienic sanitary products leads to almost a third of Indian girls missing school during their periods.
Dedicating the award to her school, Berton said the project was born because her students in L.A. and people in India wanted to make a “human rights difference.” She added: “I share this award with the Feminist Majority Foundation, the entire team and cast. I share this with the teachers and students around the world — a period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education.”
The film’s Oscar win has seen the likes of Reese Witherspoon to Priyanka Chopra pouring in congratulatory messages on social media.
“One of the most special moments of the evening…a film based on the taboos around menstruation wins BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT! Congratulations to the entire #PeriodEndOfSentence team, and my fearless friend @GuneetMonga!! #Oscars2019”, tweeted Chopra.
Director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) also lauded Monga and added, “Hurrah for women taking action!”
“Much needed topic of discussion and well deserved win,” tweeted Kumar to his 29.6 million followers.
Speaking from L.A. soon after the ceremony at the Dolby Theatre, Monga told The Hollywood Reporter: “Now that we won the Oscar, let’s go change the world! This is the reason all of us girls got together to make this film.”
In a statement issued shortly afterward, Monga thanked the Academy for “recognizing the efforts of the young girls from Oakwood school in L.A. to Kathikera in Uttar Pradesh in helping us shatter the glass ceiling.” She added: “Periods are normal and in no way do they stop us from achieving anything.”
Monga also said that “this has been more than 10 years of work by [nonprofit] Action India run by Gauri Chaudhary on educating reproductive rights on the ground in many villages. Feminist Majority Movement and Girls Learn International have been pushing this cause in the U.S…. Here’s to more girl power…I really want every girl to know that each one of them is a goddess.”
Local media outlets reported how the family of Sneha, one of the women in Kathikera village who was featured in the documentary and who also traveled to L.A. for the ceremony, celebrated the Oscar win.
Period. End of Sentence. is the second Oscar-winning documentary short set in India, along with Smile Pinki (2008) which revolved around a five-year-old girl in rural India who undergoes an operation to correct her cleft lip.
THR had predicted the Oscar win for Period. End of Sentence describing it as “the sole nominee with a local connection and/or that leaves viewers hopeful.”
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