Afghan Star

2008 Culture & Society [Nf]

When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996, among their many edicts was banning popular music, considering it a corrupting and sacrilegious influence. Though Taliban was swept from power in 2001, Islamic militants still regard music as sinful and have targeted Afghan musicians in assassination plots. Into this repressive culture comes a television show that has taken Afghanistan by storm -- Afghan Star, a talent search modeled after American Idol in which aspiring singers perform for the viewing audience and either advance in the ranks or are dropped from the competition based on votes cast by telephone. In a nation where both free democracy and pop music are both novel and risky concepts, Afghan Star's popularity is a bona fide phenomenon, and filmmaker Havana Marking explores both the competition and its effect on Afghan society in the documentary Afghan Star. Marking examines the show's audience -- it's estimated that a third of the nation watches it regularly -- as well as several top contestants, including would-be teen-pop sensation Rafi; Hammeed, a singer who is seen as a champion and role model by fellow members of the Hazara people; Lima, who was born and raised in a community of Islamic fundamentalists and must hide her identity for the safety of her family; and Setara, an attractive woman who defies convention by wearing American-style clothes and makeup, moving to the music on-stage, and even abandoning her head scarf during a performance, making her a hero to youngsters and a pariah to their parents (as well as Islamic conservatives). Afghan Star was an official selection at the 2008 Sheffield International Documentary Festival. more..

Director: Havana Marking

Starring: Rafi Naabzada, Lima Sahar, Fayez Hameed, Setara Hussainzada, Hameed Sakhizada


  • A remarkable documentary.

    Jonathan Curiel - The San Francisco Chronicle

    19 January 2013

  • One of the most hopeful and heart-rending movies I've seen this year.

    Ty Burr - The Boston Globe

    19 January 2013

  • The movie uses the talent show Afghan Star as a prism through which to examine the fragmented tribal culture of Afghanistan as reflected in the backgrounds of four finalists (two of them women) and the public responses to their performances.

    Stephen Holden - The New York Times

    19 January 2013

  • If you believe that bringing the questionable virtues of "American Idol" to Afghanistan would do that beleaguered nation no favors, the remarkable documentary Afghan Star will change your mind in an instant.

    Kenneth Turan - Los Angeles Times

    19 January 2013

  • Afghan Star goes much deeper, eloquently conveying the tensions, small victories and shattering setbacks of a fragile democracy struggling to regain a once-flourishing culture.

    Ann Hornaday - The Washington Post

    19 January 2013


  • Best Documentary

    Evening Standard British Film Awards (2010)

  • World Cinema - Documentary

    Sundance Film Festival (2009)