In a huge step towards breaking down stigmas, Period. End of Sentence, a documentary about period health and menstrual equity set in rural India won the Best Documentary (Short Subject) at the 91st Academy Awards on Sunday, February 24.
Directed by award-winning Iranian-American filmmaker Rayka Zehtabchi, the film marked
Currently streaming on Netflix, Sikhya Entertainment’s Guneet Monga, best known for Gangs of Wasseypur – Part 1, The Lunchbox and Masaan, has co-produced Period. End of Sentence.
More importantly, the 26-minute film depicts the socio-economic impact that social entrepreneur Arunachalam ‘Tampon King’ Muruganantham’s invention—a low-cost sanitary pad-making
India and menstruation make Oscar history
Making Oscar history, Period. End of Sentence beat Black Sheep, a documentary by the Guardian about a Nigerian boy who moves to Britain; End Game, about caregivers at hospices in San Francisco; Lifeboat, which highlights the global refugee crisis; and A Night at the Garden about a 1939 event when 20,000 Americans filled Madison Square Garden to celebrate Nazism.
“I’m not crying because I’m on my period or anything,” the 25-year-old filmmaker said, fighting back tears; producer Melissa Berton and the rest of the Period team soon joined her on stage.
“I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar,” Zehtabchi exclaimed in her acceptance speech, an easy
The Oscar-winning documentary follows a group of women who use Muruganantham’s pad-making machine, to offer financial independence while also improving feminine hygiene in their village. According to TIME, women in nearly 40 villages are now using their pads. The documentary also gives viewers a glimpse of the extent of taboo surrounding menstruation in these communities, where 23% of girls drop out of school when they hit puberty.
Who made the documentary a reality?
The film had crowdsourced most of its funds through a Kickstarter campaign launched by several high school girls and a teacher at Oakwood School in Los
“The whole project started because of Melissa Berton, an English teacher at Oakwood School in Los Angeles. She rounded up her students—those six girls—after learning about girls dropping out of school because of menstruation. They decided they wanted to purchase a machine that creates low-cost sanitary pads to install in a village in India, where the taboo around menstruation is among the worst in the world,” Zehtabchi told Deadline after the nominees were announced last month.
Berton said she
“There is also a sense of agency because women using these machines are making money for the first time,” she said.
The original Pad Man
Hailing from Coimbatore and now in his fifties, Muruganantham whose life was dramatically chronicled in the Akshay Kumar-
Women, including his new wife, were using torn rags, and even ash and sand as absorbents. Thus began his journey to offer more affordable and safe sanitary napkins. “It all started because I wanted to create a good sanitary napkin for my wife [Shanthi Natrajan],” he once told NPR, adding that some of his
His nine-year toil finally led him to develop a machine to create pads in 2006; during that time, he is famously remembered for demonstrating its efficacy by putting on a football bladder containing animal blood. The creative prototype eventually won him several awards, including one at the National Innovation Foundation of India, and the Padma Shri in 2016. He also received seed funding to start constructing the machines on a larger scale. In 2014, he was included in Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Presently, he is reportedly working on developing a low-cost global model based on his legendary “portable, semi-automated machine, powered by electricity that can churn out two napkins a minute” for 2-3 cents each.
Why it matters
Muruganantham’s invention has improved women’s health and dignity, besides providing them with a means of employment; but women in rural India continue to struggle with lack of sanitary supplies and access to basic sanitation.
Menstruation taboos have become a national talking point, especially in the wake of protests after the Supreme Court lifted a century-old ban on women’s entry to Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple.
The fight to ensure that women who get their period have access to the products and support they need is a hard fight. It is a struggle that affects the privileged and the
In fact, an academy voter, male, in an anonymously written article for The Hollywood Reporter, said, “Also Period. End of Sentence—it’s well done, but it’s about women getting their period, and I don’t think any man is voting for this film because it’s just icky for men.”
Fighting the stigma
In an interview with Glamour, Zehtabchi said, “After seeing the film I hope people understand this period stigma doesn’t just affect those in India; we experience it in the US and in other cultures as well.” She added, “I also want viewers to realise that empowering women worldwide really starts with opening the conversation around menstruation. We can implement feminine hygiene, but
Period. End of Sentence, giving voice and agency to women to change their own lives, is also one of the most uplifting of the nominated Documentary Shorts. Not only that, this is the first time the Academy Awards has recognised the struggle for menstrual equity; and coming from an institution that tends to favour male directors, this is historic.
The bottomline? Period finally gets the attention it deserves, at the Oscars.
Oscars 2019 at a glance
Among others that won big were Black Panther, which won three of the six nominations it secured this year (including the first woman of
Olivia Colman took home the Best Actress award for her performance as Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, while Rami Malek won Best Actor for his role as Freddie Mercury in Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, about a queer African-American jazz artist and his Italian-American chauffeur set in Segregation era, won the Best Picture despite criticism for its racist and homophobic undertones.
Meanwhile, Free Solo based on Alex Honnold, the greatest surviving free climber, won the best feature-length documentary award, while
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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