Nora Twomey’s adaptation of the well-known young adult novel, The Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis tackles the ferocious concept of living under the Taliban’s rule through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl, forced to grow up quickly to take care of her family after her home is raided and her father imprisoned. Twomey’s direction of this film beautifully tackles a strong and difficult subject, while demonstrating why some films are meant to be shown through the art of animation.
One of the most interesting themes surrounding this film is the female-dominated presence that resides throughout The Breadwinner. Not only is the director female, but this film was also executive produced by Angelina Jolie and features a strong female cast. The voice of Parvana (Saara Chaudry), acts as a guide throughout the story, inspiring hope for her family as the audience. From the beginning of the film, Parvana has a strong will and does not seem to accept the order of the Afghan way of life. Parvana is not allowed in the market without the presence of her father—this becomes an issue when her father is wrongly convicted by the Taliban for crimes he didn’t commit. Without a male presence in her family’s life, they (her mother, older sister, and little brother) have no way to support themselves.
Parvana must then make a choice about how best to support her family. However, even simple tasks such as going into the marketplace to buy food, are seen as dangerous. It becomes apparent that everyday chores like this are not allowed in a society where women are mandated to stay at home. Twomey handles these issues of misogyny and sexism head on throughout the film. It becomes clear to Parvana that she must make a dramatic change; from this, she then decides to cut off her long hair in order to look like a boy. Luckily, she encounters a friend, Shauzia (Soma Chhaya), who has also chosen to live life as a boy. Together they embark on daily adventures to find new odd jobs and find that they each need to rely on the other merely to get through their days. Once at home, Parvana finds comfort in telling her little brother stories, such as those her father had once told her.
The act of storytelling is intertwined into the main plot by Twomey, and parallels the actions happening throughout the film. There is a significant difference between Parvana’s reality and the storytelling going on in her head. According to Twomey, she wanted “to give Parvana’s imagination complete freedom,” while having the story world she spins be led by a major character. As such, the animation develops a sense of fluidity to distinguish the story from her reality. The use of the story world reminds the audience that Parvana is still a young girl learning to cope with the struggles of her world.
Although The Breadwinner might simply be seen as a children’s animated movie, the themes surrounding Parvana give it much more weight. Twomey’s directorial debut was due to her “love of the way Ellis writes to young people in a way that did not talk down to them.” This film provides insight into a world that most young Americans do not get to see or visit. Twomey focuses her directorial instincts to celebrate a young woman who is determined to provide for her family in the face of adversity. The Breadwinner’s tale is an inspiring attribution to female strength and the will to survive.