Movie Review: The Boxing Girls of Kabul

My boyfriend and I aren’t really sportsball types, so on Super Bowl Sunday, I commandeered the laptop and our Netflix subscription to watch a documentary called “The Boxing Girls of Kabul,” which I didn’t know anything about, but liked from the title alone. The basic premise is that it follows three teenage Afghan girls: Sadaf, Shabnam, and Shahla as they train under their coach Sabir, himself a former competitor who decided to start a training gym for girls’ boxing. The girls, despite inadequate training conditions and extreme social pressures, train diligently and travel to compete internationally. Some of my favourite scenes are of them training together.

My only complaint about this film is that it was only about 53 minutes long, because I completely fell in love with it and its subjects. This is not a Hollywood special that will make you feel as though all the problems have been overcome, or that a great debt of gratitude is owed to the interventions of the West. Nope. Just some scrappy girls who really want to be boxers in a world that really doesn’t want them to be anything.

I really appreciated that the movie didn’t shy away from the immense inequalities that they faced due to their lack of resources and due to their gender. All of them tell very matter-of-fact stories about threats that they received due to their participation in the sport. Shahla talks about being harassed and threatened with kidnapping; Sabir describes an encounter with a man he thinks would have shot him without hesitation had they been alone. The girls cry in frustration and wonder how they can possibly be expected to make something of themselves when they are at such a disadvantage in comparison to girls from other, wealthier, countries. But at other remarkable moments, they acknowledge their great fortune to have families who allow them (for the most part) to go to school and play sports. They talk about other girls they know, from more conservative families, who are not even allowed to leave the house.

Still, this documentary walks a fine line – showing the tremendous courage and determination these girls have, but never portraying them as superhuman, treating them as a kind of oppressed regime version of “inspiration porn,” or seeing them as struggling damsels in distress to be rescued by well-meaning westerners. They don’t need any of that, because they’re amazing just the way they are. Watch it. You’ll love them.

Boxing Girls of Kabul

5 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Boxing Girls of Kabul

  1. This sounds like a really inspiring watch…. definitely something I’d like to watch with my girls, on a night when we feel like being more introspective and educational 🙂 thanks very much for your review!

  2. This is a problem faced my majority of sportswomen in close minded societies. You must watch Mary Kom, its a movie inspired by the true life of a boxing champion. Very similar to this!

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