Parwin Mushthal may not be a household name in America, but over in Afghanistan she is one of the country’s leading actresses. She currently appears in the immensely popular series Bulbul and has performed Shakespeare in the country’s leading theater venues. But such success has come with a terrible, and not unheard of, price. First it was in the form of threatening letters and phone calls, but then it escalated:
“I was walking towards home and then a man came behind me on a bike and punched me in my back.”
In Afghanistan, women who act are seen by fundamentalists as prostituting themselves by appearing in such public forums. It does not matter to the attackers that the women dress “modestly” (Mushthal admits she thought that her unrevealing garb would prevent her from being threatened), and it probably goes without saying that male actors rarely are subjected to these kinds of judgments. Mushthal’s husband then became a target, as he was perceived as being shamed for allowing his wife to be viewed by so many strangers. The horrific culmination of this was that her husband, a taxi driver, was shot dead in December. Just as so many girls in Afghanistan have been subjected to brutal attacks simply for trying to get an education, Mushthal has been singled out for pursuing her own dreams. She does not do this because she hopes to gain immense wealth; Afghanistan’s cultural careers do not come with Hollywood-type salaries and awards. She acts because she loves it, and because she dares to work and take pride in her accomplishments, she is a target for those who would not allow a woman to achieve her goals.