When producer Melissa Berton and director Rayka Zehtabchi accepted an Oscar for their documentary, Period. End of Sentence earlier this month, one sentence in
Zehtabchi’s speech captured the awe and elation of the evening. Steven Allison reviews their award-winning film and analyses how it can help India’s evolving attitude towards women.
In a recent article, I wrote about the rising #MeToo movement in India, as well as its effect on female empowerment. While the article’s clear focus was on Indian women gaining the courage to speak up about their experiences of sexual assault and harassment, it also touched upon the broader issue of gender inequality across the country. The rise of #MeToo in India is just one paving stone on a much longer road to the resolution of all unique struggles faced by Indian women, the completion of which will require a massively holistic approach over a very long period.
When I use ‘period’ here, I refer to a length or portion of time. Of course, you know that. I obviously don’t mean the punctuation mark or the menstruation process, so why the need to clarify the point? Well, that’s just the thing; I’m making a point. Believe it or not, many Indian men have no idea what a period is. This time, I’m referring to menstruation.
In the cleverly-named Netflix documentary, Period. End of Sentence, a group of grinning Indian men blithely assert that a period is “a class period, like the kind you’d ring a bell for,” while menstruation is a “kind of illness” that “mostly affects ladies.” At the same time, the Indian women interviewed for the documentary can barely look at the camera, embarrassment written across their scarlet faces whenever the subject is raised. They don’t know why they bleed, but they’re certain it’s something they should be ashamed of. And there we have it; another paving stone to lay down on that long road to female empowerment in India.
With Period. End of Sentence, Iranian-American director Rayka Zehtabchi seeks to raise awareness of the ubiquitous Indian perception of menstruation as a taboo. The 25-minute film promotes the
Zehtabchi highlights the desire of many contemporary Indian women to break down restrictive societal norms and to live as equal, autonomous beings. For these women, facing menstruation head-on is just one way they can achieve this goal. The documentary focuses on one young girl, Sneha, who wants to join the police force. She needs cash to make that happen, but a job in the small sanitary pad factory brings her goal a little closer.
This big-hearted, cheerful story follows a 2018 Bollywood film called Pad Man, which follows an Indian activist looking to make cheap sanitary pads after discovering the filthy, bloody rags used by his wife. Like its forerunner, Period. End of Sentence will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy; its humility and empathy are no doubt to thank for its Best Documentary Short Subject Oscar win earlier this month. But picking up an Academy Award wasn’t the aim of the game here. The much nobler intentions of this film are to champion the laudable efforts of these plucky, determined women to battle through the patriarchal confinements they’ve passively ignored for generations.
Ultimately, it feels wrong to lambaste the technical elements of the well-meaning Period. End of Sentence. Sadly,
At the end of the day though, Period. End of Sentence has a wonderful message to spread with regards to female agency. And I’m sure it will do that just fine. Despite the flaws noted above, it has just nabbed an Oscar, so that says something. Please do watch this documentary and share it with your friends, not because it’s a fine piece of craftsmanship, but for the incredible