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By Whitney Borup | February 1, 2009

Until 2004, it was a crime to sing or dance in Afghanistan. If you were a man, you could be put into prison. If you were a woman, you would be killed. When these restrictions were lifted, local television networks responded with “Afghan Star,” the Afghan version of American Idol. This documentary follows the fate of five contestants competing on this stressful, but ultimately rewarding program.

In a country that has seen regime after regime controlling their lives, Afghan Star represents democracy. Here the entire public has the right to vote for their favorite star, and whether that star is from the North, South, East, or West, they can show their support. This is a far cry from the factioned Afghanistan they knew just 10 years ago. This film is interested in both the contestants and the people that support them, showing how the program is not just a way to find the next big pop idol, but a way to heal the wounds of a divided country.

The women contestants followed were by far the most interesting part of the film. In an already oppressive society, women got/get the brunt of the deal, and one woman in this film is even sent death threats when she dances on television (later banned by the still somewhat active Taliban). I almost wish the documentary had put more focus on the women contestants, making them the main subjects. But that might me because I’m a woman. And also, a man-hater.

Even with all those men running around, “Afghan Star” is an inspiring, fun documentary. Focusing on the good parts of Afghan culture, the film rarely mentions the Taliban, only to talk about how they are slowly becoming obsolete. Even the subject of war is kind of dancing over, with one interviewee claiming that Afghanistan is “a country where if they don’t have a war, they have an earthquake.”

Shot a lot like American Idol, this documentary covers the audition process of “Afghan Star” to the final results, documenting both the contestant and audience reaction. And while the music may seem a little foreign to our Paula Abdul listening ears, learning more about who is singing is highly rewarding.

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