After Period: End of Sentence was awarded best documentary short at the 2019 Oscars, the film’s co-producer Melissa Berton joked that her teary response was “not because I’m on my period” — a reference to the movie’s too-often taboo subject matter.
“I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” Rayka Zehtabchi added jubilantly, while accepting the award with fellow producer Berton.
Also directed by 25-year-old Zechtabi, Period tackles the stigma around menstruation in rural India. The 26-minute film follows a group of women who use a new machine to create affordable sanitary pads (and financial independence), while simultaneously improving personal hygiene for the women in their village. According to TIME, the pads they manufacture are now being used in 40 nearby villages.
The film also shows how the stigma in these communities around menstruation has far-reaching effects, with 23 percent of girls leaving school when they hit puberty. Zehtabchi told Glamour, “Some of the craziest moments during filming would be when we talked to older women—who had gone their entire lives menstruating and should have been talking to their daughters about menstruation—but couldn’t even tell us why it happened every month, or why they got it. It breaks your heart because if they’re so afraid of the thing that makes them women, then I can’t imagine what else you would be afraid to do or talk about.”
In 2012, Burton — a Los Angeles-based teacher — traveled with students and other staff to Kathikhera, India, to set up the machine that is featured in the film. When the trip was over, they wanted to do more to spread the word about the ways women’s opportunities were being diminished by the menstruation taboo. Zehtabchi was approached to direct the documentary by The Pad Project.
“After seeing the film I hope people understand this period stigma doesn’t just effect those in India, we experience it in the United States and in other cultures as well,” Zehtabchi told Glamour. “I also want viewers to realize that empowering women worldwide really starts with beginning with opening up the conversation around menstruation. We can implement feminine hygiene, but first we have to break the taboo.”
And that work is as necessary at home as abroad. Last week, The Hollywood Reporter reported that an unnamed male member of the Academy had admitted that while the film is “well done'” he, other male voters (and, in fact, “any man”) finds periods “icky”.
Watch the full acceptance speech below:
Read the full story at Glamour.