No genre does girl power quite like animation. And The Breadwinner, a new film produced by Angelina Jolie, is looking to add to that legacy. The animated movie, based on the young adult book by Deborah Ellis, tells the story of Parvana, a young girl growing up in Afghanistan who decides to prented to be a boy to help her family survive after her father gets arrested by the Taliban. In a moment of defiance, Parvana cuts her hair, and the scene is one any millennial will view as a callback to the animated girl power classic Mulan. However, it would be a mistake to say that The Breadwinner is just Mulan set in Afghanistan, because The Breadwinner does something Mulan did not, and that is to set the narrative about misogyny and sexism in modern times.
The Breadwinner takes place in 2001 Kabul, a city overrun by Taliban forces that rule through intimidation, violence, and fear. Per the Taliban's rules, 11-year-old Parvana is not allowed in public without her father, and his arrest leaves her family — her mother, older sister, and baby brother — destitute. Unable to even fetch water as a young girl alone, Parvana makes the decision to disguise herself as a boy, which includes the visually powerful choice to cut off her long, black hair, as shown in this exclusive clip.
The scene is reminiscent of Disney's Mulan in which Mulan takes her father's sword and cuts off her hair as a first step toward impersonating a man to fight in the emperor's army. The cutting of one's hair is, in this case, the shedding of a female identity and the adoption of a male identity. But, while Mulan presents this Joan of Arc story line as taking place in the distant past, The Breadwinner does not allow the audience the same distance from the story. Audiences cannot see The Breadwinner and pat themselves on the back for how far we have come in terms of gender equality. The modern setting forbids it.
Jolie spoke about the importance of bringing awareness to this current crisis at the film's U.S. premiere during the Animation is Film Festival, where The Breadwinner took home the grand jury prize.
"There are few countries in the world where it is harder to be a young girl," Jolie said, via Variety, "where barriers between girls and their dreams and their rights are so high and so painful to experience and observe."
The producer was added that, though the film is set in Afghanistan, the message of gender equality and exploration of women's rights is relevant all around the world. "It's not just an Afghan story. It's a story of our time and a story of a world in which equal rights for women remain a central burning issue of our time," Jolie said at the premiere.
In The Breadwinner, Parvana discovers unimaginable freedom living life as a boy outside her home, a sad contrast to the limits society places on her gender. Disguised as a boy, Parvana is free to work and earn money to support her family, to explore her city unattended, and to exist without the constant reminder that her gender makes her a second-class citizen. Admittedly, the film is unashamed about it's feminist agenda.
"Millions of young girls like Parvana are growing up today under oppression or conflict, and helping their families to survive in those conditions. This story is a reminder of the immense value of their contribution," Jolie said when announcing her involvement with the film, via Indiewire.
In fact, the film itself is a step forward when it comes to women's equality in the film industry. In addition to boasting Jolie as a producer, The Breadwinner was written by women — Ellis adapted her original book with co-screenwriter Anita Doron — and helmed by a female director, Nora Twomey. Such strong female representation behind the camera is rare in Hollywood, especially when coupled with a female-driven story. The Breadwinner is something of a Hollywood unicorn.