When director Rayka Zehtabchi came to the stage to accept her Academy Award, she laugh-sob-shouted out one of the night’s most memorable lines: “I’m not crying because I’m on my period or anything. I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!”
Her shock–and that of Melissa Berton, with whom she shared the award–seemed genuine, and understandable given the nature of the movie they made. Period. End of Sentence, was a Kickstarter-funded, female-helmed production that addresses the injustice suffered by girls and women in India and around the world simply because they menstruate. In other words, it wasn’t exactly typical Oscar bait.
The Hollywood Reporter put it bluntly, with their “awards expert” writing, “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.” Maybe that writer was attempting humor, but the casual prevalence of comments like that gets at exactly what this documentary had to overcome to win.
The story of Period. End of Sentence started at a North Hollywood school. Berton, an English teacher at the school, helped organize a group of girls who were outraged to learn that in parts of the developing world, menstrual taboos and lack of access to sanitary supplies can put women at risk of infections, derail their educations, and push them out of their communities during their periods.
In an attempt to help, the students formed a charity called the Pad Project. Their goal at the time was to raise the $45,000 it would cost to install one machine dispensing affordable sanitary napkins to women in the village of Hapur, India. Along the way, they linked up with Zehtabchi, then a recent USC grad, who worked with the club and their counterparts in Hapur to create a documentary about their project.
“Sometimes when you think of girls who live in India or another developing country, you can think that they’re so different,” wrote an Oakwood School ninth grader named Mason. “It’s easy to forget that we do have things in common. Girl culture all over the world is so powerful. It creates such an amazing community, and I think that’s really important.”
Through a streaming deal with Netflix and now the amplification of a major Oscar win, it looks like Period. End of Sentence will be sharing that message to a larger audience than ever before. Maybe it’ll even reach some men who still think periods are icky.
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