News & Current Affairs

Jennifer Lawrence's Bread and Roses Documentary Gives Afghan Women a Voice

By Azeezat Okunlola | May 24, 2023
Jennifer Lawrence, an Oscar winner and the producer, of the film Bread and Roses, recently spoke to the BBC about the significance of a certain scene in the film where Afghan women fight back.
"My heart was beating so fast watching these women defy the Taliban," Lawrence says. "You don't see this side of the story, women fighting back, in the news every day and it's an important part of our film, and the stories of these women."
She finds it terrible to consider the unexpected powerlessness of Afghan women.
"They currently have no autonomy within their country. It is so important for them to be given the opportunity to document their own story, in their own way."
Lawrence and her friend Justine Ciarrocchi formed the production firm Excellent Cadaver in 2018 and are responsible for producing the film.
"This documentary was born out of emotion and necessity," says Lawrence, who felt helpless and frustrated by the news she was watching.
After the fall of Kabul in 2021, Ciarrocchi writes, Lawrence "had a seismic reaction because the circumstances were so dire for women."
"And she said, 'We've got to give somebody a platform to tell this story in a meaningful way.'"
Sahra Mani, a filmmaker who helped found the unbiased Kabul production company Afghan Doc House, was that person.
Her film, A Thousand Girls Like Me, about a 23-year-old Afghan woman who goes on national television to expose sexual assault by her father after being ignored by her family and the authorities, was widely praised by critics, including Lawrence and Ciarrocchi.
After months of girls and women being banned from universities and schools, Ciarrocchi located Mani, who revealed that she had already began a project following three women in the country as they fought to achieve some form of autonomy.
Covert cameras were used by Mani, who also requested that the women film themselves in safe places with their loved ones.
In another scene, a clandestine gathering takes place in a basement with no windows on a quiet street in Kabul. In what appears to be a makeshift classroom, more than a dozen ladies are seated in rows of desks and chairs.
While they are strangers to one another, they all have a common experience: protesting the retake of Afghanistan by the Taliban in August of 2021.
The viewer has been led here by one of the women, a dentist named Zahra. She talks about how she and her friends used to dress up and hang out in the park in their high heels and perfume. Women all around her are beaming.
The next person to talk is a writer by the name of Vahideh.
Vahideh declares passionately, "Women must write their own history," to which the group nods in accord. It has been said that "women are not properly celebrated around the world."
Mani knew full well the risks involved with filming in such intimate and sometimes deadly settings.
"I understand how to deal with difficulties because I am one of them.
They are heroes, she argues, and not victims.
It was challenging to strike a balance between protecting the women and sharing their experiences. During production, she, Ciarrocchi, and Lawrence stayed up late discussing various issues, she tells the BBC.
"They were there whenever I faced any issues or problems," recalls Mani. "When women unite, everything is possible."
Now that Mani and the other ladies in the film have left the country, the producers are sending Bread and Roses to festivals like Cannes in the hopes of getting it wider exposure.
The next hurdle, according to Ciarrocchi and Lawrence, is promoting the film to a wide audience, which can be difficult when the subject matter is a snapshot of a continuous and destructive conflict.
"There's not an end to this story," says Lawrence, "and you feel pretty much helpless when thinking about how to do anything about it. It's a hard thing to market."
Ciarrocchi and Lawrence are two of the few female executive producers working in Hollywood today. The percentage of female directors, writers, and producers in the highest-grossing films fell from 26% in 2021 to 24% in 2022, according to a survey conducted by the Center for the Survey of Women in Television and Film.
"I think there's a long, long way to go, but I do feel inspired and positive by the end product when you have more diversity in filmmaking," says Lawrence. "It's what people want. The audiences want it."
In addition, Ciarrocchi says, "That's why we take the responsibility of Jen's platform so seriously as a woman who's giving opportunities to other women... to employ women, to tell women's stories, to always employ a diverse body of people."
Lawrence responds, "That's also because I am a woman."
"I'm lucky enough to not have the biased idea that women aren't as good at things!"