An Afghan Girl Poses as a Boy to Survive Under the Taliban

“The Breadwinner” portrays one brave eleven-year-old’s struggle to feed her family


On the heels of Ann Marie Fleming’s joyful animated indie Window Horses comes Nora Twomey’s thematically similar but far darker The Breadwinner. Parvana (Saara Chaudry) is an eleven-year-old girl living in Afghanistan under Taliban rule in 2001, when women were forbidden to be in public unaccompanied by men and/or with their faces uncovered. When her kindly father (Ali Badshah) is arrested — and the only member of her family legally allowed to go outside is her toddler brother, who’s too young to take advantage of his arbitrary privilege — Parvana cuts her hair and pretends to be a boy so she can make money for food. Parvana also comforts her brother (who will someday have far more freedom than she ever will) with a story about what so many stories are about: yet another boy on a quest to save his village, in this case from the Elephant King.

Those segments are interesting, but ultimately a distraction from the far more pressing, real-world story of Parvana learning to pass on the Kabul streets. It’s notable that since her hair is cut short and she’s wearing male clothes, none of the men suspect that she’s not a boy despite her chosen male name being only slightly less conspicuous than “McLovin.” Being evil is not the same thing as being intelligent or observant.

The Breadwinner
Directed by Nora Twomey
Opens November 17, IFC Center