Meet Sara Rashad: Filmmaker and ActivistMarch 24, 2010
Sara Rashad, a 2000–01 Community Action Grant recipient, reached back to her Egyptian heritage to find a worthy subject for her University of Southern California final student film project. She decided to focus on the tradition of female genital cutting (FGC), or the cultural practice of partially or wholly removing the external female genitalia.
Sara had already tackled the taboo topic in a play she wrote and produced, but she wanted to reach a wider audience, and she saw the big screen as just the vehicle to do it. With the film Sara had two goals: to raise awareness among a broad international audience about the complex issues surrounding female “circumcision” and to educate women who live in communities where this practice still takes place.
After screening a short version of the film for many African women immigrants living in the United States, many of whom had experienced FGC, Sara decided to push forward with a longer film project entitled Tahara. “When I saw the great impact the five-minute version made on the women, I decided to make a longer version to educate them about stopping circumcision,” Sara said.
The film, for which Sara played the roles of writer, producer, director, and editor, focuses on the story of Amina, an Egyptian housewife living in Los Angeles, who faces the decision of whether to follow tradition and have her daughter circumcised or to abandon tradition for her daughter’s sake. According to Sara, the film is a “story about multiculturalism and what it means in the U.S. and abroad.”
In order to ensure the authenticity of her script, Sara traveled to Egypt numerous times, conducting more than 100 interviews with the Egyptian minister of health, local journalists, FGC activists, and physicians. She also vetted her script through Egyptian women, including those living in rural areas where the practice, although illegal, still occurs. “The role the village women played in helping me make an authentic film is unforgettable,” noted Sara.
Since its completion in 2004, Tahara has been screened at more than 200 film festivals worldwide and has won several international prizes including best directing, best editing, best human rights film, best female filmmaker, and best acting. Most recently, Tahara was awarded a prize for best international short film at the Abuja International Film Festival held in Abuja, Nigeria.
To learn more about the triumphs and setbacks Sara faced making Tahara happen or to order a copy of the film, please visit www.taharafilm.com.