Film & Television

Brave Girl Rising and Period. End of Sentence:
Short Stories that are Changing Women’s History

Education is also the solution in the Oscar-winning short Period. End of Sentence. The film was originally conceived as a marketing tool to help fund the not-for-profit “Pad Project,” itself a successful story of female empowerment. Melissa Berton, a high school English teacher from North Hollywood, worked with a group of motivated young students to purchase a machine that makes biodegradable sanitary pads and provide it to the women of Hapur, a small village in India.

In the United States, many girls are embarrassed by the subject of menstruation. They may feel physical discomfort every month or be forced to curtail some activities. In rural India, menstruation is a virtually taboo subject. Girls don’t have access to safe and sanitary hygiene products, relying on old cloth instead, and may not have easy access to a restroom during school hours. Consequently, reaching puberty and starting menstruation is one of the most common reasons for a girl to drop out of school. The arrival of a machine that makes sanitary pads resulted in multiple benefits for the young women of Hapur.

Working with social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham, local women were trained to manufacture and package the pads. This became a source of income for them, and also a source of pride. While the topic of menstruation was almost shameful before, it was bestowed with a sense of respect when it became a way to make money. Women became persuasive salespeople. One woman used the money she made to fund police academy training. And all of the village’s girls had access to reliable products that meant they could stay in school.

Period. End of Sentence was directed by Rayka Zehtabchi, an Iranian-American who at age 25 had already earned jury awards at major festivals, and produced by Guneet Monga, an Indian filmmaker, whose 2013 film The Lunchbox was an international success. Berton and many of her students served as executive and assistant producers as well. Period. End of Sentence was accepted — and received honors — at multiple film festivals prior to its nomination for an Academy Award.

Best Documentary Short Subject isn’t usually the most glamorous Oscar category, but this year it raised eyebrows as well as consciousness. Since a recurring theme of Period. End of Sentence was the normalization of menstruation, it was fitting that the winners’ acceptance speeches didn’t mince words about it. Through happy tears, Zehtabchi said “I’m not crying because I’m on my period or anything. I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar.” After thanking various organizations and participating girls here and in India, Berton finished her speech with the pronouncement: “Periods should end a sentence. Not an education.”

Lest we assume that “menstrual equality” (Zehtabchi’s phrase) is a problem only in other countries, I’ll leave you with an Oscar ballot comment by a voting member of the Academy, whom, I believe, we can safely assume is a man. According to the Hollywood Reporter, he said, “[I’m not voting for] Period. End of Sentence — it’s well done, but it’s about women getting their period, and I don’t think any man is voting for this film because it’s just icky for men.”

I think a required screening of Period. End of Sentence — for boys as well as girls — might just be in order.

 

Brave Girl Rising is available to watch online at https://girlrising.org/brave/film/

Period. End of Sentence is available on Netflix.

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