This week’s Getting Reel post, where we review movies or shows, is about a new show in Pakistan that has been all over our blog feeds this week. Burka Avenger is an animated TV show about a superheroine named Jiya. She fights for equal access to education, using books and pens literally as weapons. Every superhero wears a disguise, and Jiya’s is a burka. More on that in a minute.
Ok so full disclosure first: We haven’t actually seen Burka Avenger. We’ve read about it, we’ve watched trailers, and we’ve spent several hours trying to (legally) stream Pakistani television on our American laptop to no avail. If one of our friends with fewer moral scruples happens to send it our way, we’ll update. We have done our homework, and so we’re going to carry on anyway.
I will come right out and say it: I think this show rocks. As this clever Huffington Post piece points out in gifs, it knocks the socks right off Disney princesses. Jiya isn’t a princess, she’s a school teacher, an actual occupation. She fights Taliban extremists and institutional sexism — real problems! — and she does it her bad self, without the help of any woodland creatures or Princes Charming. Her weapons are literally books. Literally. Books. She is fighting for access to education by harnessing the power of her own education + physical strength (she’s also a ninja). As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword…
One of the things I love most about Jiya is that as a superheroine, she isn’t sexualized. Overwhelmingly, superheroines are portrayed in overtly sexualized clothing and posture. Take Wonder Woman…
Or this great illustration of how absurd male superheros would look if the gendered poses were reversed…
There are fairly few female superheros out there, and a major visual focus is on their sexuality. Jiya wears a burka to conceal her identity (anonymity is critical for her, as for virtually all superheros). The burka is not tight, sexy spandex, and it helps her FLY. Seriously. I love this lady.
But, her burka has also been the point of most serious debate about just how groundbreaking this show really is. It probably goes without saying that some consider the burka a means of oppressing women. Pakistani writer Bina Shah lays out a balanced discussion of the subtleties of portraying the burka in the show (and other details about the show). There is increasing discourse that the burka is misunderstood in the West. Wearing the burka, or a veil much less than that, can be a choice women make, Certainly, there are countries where it is required by law (e.g., Saudi Arabia), and there are situations where family or others push girls and women to be covered. But, in many other cases, women actively choose to veil. For the same reason shaming women for dressing in a revealing fashion is inappropriate and anti-feminist, so is shaming women for choosing modesty. Jiya wears a burka to conceal her identity — generally critical to being a superhero — so she can fight the same kinds of political forces that do force women to wear the burka instead of allowing a choice.
There are other strong female characters as well, making Burka Avenger an anomaly among contemporary children’s television shows which tend to feature more boys than girls. The Burka Avenger theme song is just incredible, being focused on Jiya’s power and agency, and not a word about waiting for Prince Charming. It’s also insanely catchy:
Camouflage, shadows and darkness
No guns, but got ammo regardless
A backpack so she’s coming prepared
To leave the opposition in submission, running in fear
Yeah – superhero got ’em kicking and screaming
In hysterics, these clerics had envisioned a demon
A spirit so quick to deliver a beating
To the enemies of peace, love, logic and reason
Yeah – hit ’em with a logical reason
Kill extremism, corruption and just stop it from breathing
The way it was, she’ll be taking it back
So tune in for the story of the lady in black
For all of the above reasons, we’re giving Burka Avenger 5 pinwheels: