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The Beauty Academy of Kabul (2006)

Liz Mermin  |  NR |  DVD
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Directors: Liz Mermin
  • Producers: Liz Mermin, Linda Saetre, Nigel Noble, Sheri Levine
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Docurama
  • DVD Release Date: December 19, 2006
  • Run Time: 74 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000HDR8BY
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #223,229 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Beauty Academy of Kabul" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Filmmaker post-screening Q&A
  • Deleted scenes
  • Resource guide
  • Filmmaker biography

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

An arresting and optimistic portrait of post-Taliban Afghanistan, the theatrical hit THE BEAUTY ACADEMY OF KABUL captures the wonderfully odd circumstances that bring Afghan and American women together in pursuit of physical beauty and much more. In this utterly unique film, a quirky gaggle of Western hairstylists, including Afghan-American women, armed with blow driers and designer scissors, improbably opens a school to teach eager Afghan women the high art of fixing hair. Torn by decades of war and oppression, the women of Kabul embrace perm rods and mascara with unbridled hope even as they candidly recall the horrors of burkas and bombs. Both humorous and slyly subversive, the film offers poignant moments of culture clash between the Americans and Afghans and touching moments of feminine solidarity. Eschewing the trivial, THE BEAUTY ACADEMY OF KABUL innovatively renders the odd story of international goodwill through hair care in exquisitely humane terms.

When "liberators" don't understand the country they're trying to help, the end result can be well meaning, but diluted. In the documentary The Beauty Academy of Kabul, filmmaker Liz Mermin focuses on a group of American hair stylists who travel to post-Taliban Afghanistan to teach local women how to beautify themselves and their customers. Though well-intentioned and enthusiastic, many of the Westerners come across as clueless and thoughtless. Looking at a group of women eager to pick up some styling tips, an Indiana hairdresser admonishes them for looking plain and demands to know why they're not wearing makeup. She seems to have no idea that until recently, these women were covered head to toe in burkas. Another American stylist says to her translator, "It seems to me some of these women are fearful of their husbands. Why?" And yet another seems disappointed when her class makes no notice of her declaration that Frederic Fekkai--the famed hairdresser to the stars--personally donated the scissors they're using. Mermin would've done better to focus less on the Americans and more on the Afghani women, many of whom have heartbreaking stories to tell. One, who got married at 14, notes, "Men and women should be equal." Another young student likes the idea of marrying a man she falls in love with, but pragmatically points out, "If a guy can fall in love with you, he can fall in love with someone else, too." It is these women who carry the story. And it is these women whose stories should've been delved into more. --Jae-Ha Kim

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ...and ugly goes right to the bone. October 16, 2006
"The Beauty Academy of Kabul" is a documentary about a group of American women hairdressers who travel to Kabul to teach hairdressing to Afghani women in the post-Taliban era. The film has many positives, mainly its interviews with the women students. Surprisingly, many seem cheerful. A few talk about the war or the Taliban. But against the backdrop of bombed out buildings and ruined villas, their laughter is obviously a defense against unbearable inner pain. The glimpses of their lives -- the houses they live in, the music they listen to, the images they watch and the structure of their families -- is priceless.

While I admire the Americans for their act of kindness, it becomes clear early on that they are almost completely insensitive to the mores of the Afghanis. The students, first of all, are survivors of a brutal regime in a male-dominated, Islamic society. Under the Taliban, many risked punishment to run beauty salons out their own homes.To hear these women being lectured by know-it-all Americans was ghastly. Almost to a person, the Americans were arrogant and insensitive. One woman figured she would single-handedly "liberate" the streets by driving a car -- unheard of in that country. The stares and glares she received did not seem to faze her. Another woman engaged the students in pre-class meditation -- something that must have seemed bizarre (and faintly heretical!) to these Muslim women. Most of the teachers treated their students as rookies -- unmoved that they had been working in the business for years and years. Overall, the Afghani women were serious, devout, family-oriented workaholics. The Americans -- beauty-obsessed, swinging singles and into New Age religion if any at all -- epitomized the stereotype that Americans are loud, brash, disconnected and uncaring.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars worth viewing January 10, 2007
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
Not withstanding the vanity of the western women, this is a poignant, agenda-less film that documents the gap between the east and west, and the modest aspirations of Afghani women to show their visage in public.

This movie is certainly interesting in demonstrating the chasm between between eastern and western feminine mores. Nothing like a bunch of dead family members to cement a reluctance to adopt western fashion. Certainly the chasm is so substantial that its hard to fathom that a term such as "love marriage" exists on this planet, but there it is. And the flakiness that is celebrated in the west as "diversity" and "enlightenment" is exposed in this film for its weirdness. Afghani society is not so tolerant of behavior that is outside the lines.

If nothing else, we have a misinterpretation of gaps; we have westerners hoping to cross decades of difference when the gap is centuries. And yet the resilient women of Kabul, some who have never known peace know that they are right and that the battle is not a matter how but when. This is not a story with dramatic twists or stunning turns, but a modest story of cowed women taking modest steps to assert themselves in a society that suddenly stopped caring what women had to say and only now minimally willing to consider their contribution. It is a moving story of small acts of courage in the face of cultural retardation.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hairdressers out from hiding . . . April 24, 2007
This revealing and sometimes amusing documentary follows the efforts of several western women to open a beauty school in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the days following the fall of the Taliban regime. Here the feminist assumptions of the school's instructors collide with the realities of life for women in a more traditional, male-dominated Islamic culture.

The filmmakers have been invited into the homes of some of these women and we learn a great deal about their values and aspirations, as well as what is expected of them. When a young single woman reveals that she is "in love" with a young man, she makes the filmmaker promise not to tell her mother, who would strongly disapprove. A married woman speaks of living through the reign of Taliban terror that kept women house-bound, and another describes secretly working as a hairdresser during those years in her home - in defiance of the law. The beauty school instructors may make you cringe, but you'll admire their students.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars feminist liberation or cultural imperialism? January 25, 2007
In 2003 six American hairdressers opened a beauty school in the bombed out ruins of post-Taliban Kabul. Director Liz Mermin follows this venture from the grand opening and selection of the first class to the graduation dinner three months later. Two of the volunteers, Sima and Shaima, had emigrated from Afghanistan to the United States more than twenty years earlier, and their cultural reconnection is emotionally powerful. "It's been twenty years since I was here," observes Sima, "but the country has regressed a hundred years." Two other volunteers are positively obnoxious; they cannot understand why these Afghan women would not wear makeup, drive, or anger their husbands. One of them begins classes with yoga meditation as the Afghan women giggle. Another gushes that their project is not just about hair and makeup but about "healing the country." The real heroes that make this film worth watching, though, are the Afghan women. "Our men have backwards mentalities," one of them laments. I found the symbolism of a beauty parlor run by culturally insensitive American do-gooders in a conservative Muslim country rich with paradox. Was this project one of genuine feminist liberation or self-congratulatory cultural imperialism? A little of both, I thought. In English and Afghan.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars not bad
as a background tasks it's not bad - has some interesting scenes and dialogues - I didn't like the fat American woman trying to convert the Afghans into her culture but I am fully... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Reza Ganjavi
5.0 out of 5 stars Great film!
I have not read the book, but I loved the film, and I use it in my 9th grade English/Humanities class when we study the Middle Eastern cultures. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Teacher
3.0 out of 5 stars The Beauty Academy of Kabul DVD
It is a short documentary on the beauty school. I was using it to supplement Deborah Rodriquez books of Kabul..The video did give insight on the female life in Kabul... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Rita Crane
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
How does a woman who wears her hair like THAT think she can teach about hair care? How does a woman who wears make-up like that think she can teach about beauty? Read more
Published on May 11, 2010 by Daisy
4.0 out of 5 stars Great look at an Afghanistan you don't normally see...
This documentary is a great look at a female community transforming itself after being lifted from an oppressive government that worked to keep women under wraps (literally) and... Read more
Published on June 2, 2009 by Maybird
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and should be seen by all
I had read the book written about the beauty school when it first came out and just got around to watching the documentary this weekend. Read more
Published on May 13, 2009 by Holly
5.0 out of 5 stars I shall be released
This short documentary works for me on several levels.

Taking it at face value, an international group of hairdressers, American, British and Afghani establish a Beauty... Read more
Published on January 31, 2007 by Junglies
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