In America, skateboarding can be a punky act of youthful rebellion, or at least a way to get away from your overbearing parents for a bit. In Afghanistan, it's all that and much more.
Learning To Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl) is the newly crowned Oscar-winning documentary short about female students at Skateistan, a school in Kabul that teaches Afghan kids reading, writing, arithmetic, and ripping. Started by Oliver Percovich, an Australian, in 2007 and supported by donations, the school's ongoing success and recognition makes a strong argument for the merits of cultural exchange in transforming a repressive society.
The girls in particular are pushing boundaries. Most women in Afghanistan have no formal education and few have hobbies like skateboarding, to say the least. Their school is also a refuge for self-expression. Boys skateboard in the streets of Kabul, one student explains, but girls would risk reprisals for daring to do so. One of the instructors, a former student herself, dares to dream of competing internationally in the sport.
In accepting the Oscar for her documentary, director Carol Dysinger said she hopes the film "teaches girls courage, to raise your hand, to say, 'I am here, I have something to say, and I am going to take that ramp. Don't try to stop me.'"