Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Director’s Statement by Roya Sadat

Roya Sadat, Stage Director of A Thousand Splendid Suns; © Farzana Wahidy

Widely recognized as Afghanistan’s first female film and television producer during the post-Taliban era, Roya Sadat is the winner of more than 20 international film awards, including the 2021 Kim Dae-jung Nobel Peace Film Award and the 2018 International Women of Courage Award presented by the United States Department of State. Sadat was featured among the BBC’s 100 Inspiring and Influential Women for 2021, and her three films – A Letter to the President (’17), Playing the Taar (’08), and Three Dots (’03) – have been invited to more than 60 international film festivals. A Letter to the President was selected as the official entry from Afghanistan for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards. In addition to her feature films, she has produced eight documentary films, three television programs, and a music video.

February 25th could have been a euphoric day for me, a performance after which to return to my homeland and share the success of a monumental accomplishment with my countrymen. Fate, alas, transformed my sentiments of personal joy and pride to those of duty and responsibility. Directing A Thousand Splendid Suns at the Seattle Opera became an austere obligation owed to the women of Afghanistan.

Through the story of Laila and Mariam, A Thousand Splendid Suns narrates the suffering and perseverance of Afghan women, those who, like Laila, despite unthinkable adversity, injustice, and difficulties of womanhood, wholeheartedly remain loyal to love and life. It is the story of women like Laila, who through quiet determination, patience, and devotion pull their beloveds out of war and masculine villainies. Hence Laila and Mariam reveal how women continue to vigorously generate indelible stories.

I owe these women! All who want to be the narrators of courage, honor, resistance, and love for the bright nature of life, should take our hands and pull these women out of the heart of the history of fate and crime, like a branch of light. Let's stay with them and be the voices of their heroic screams.

Initially, I wanted to imagine the opera in a contemporary and modern framework, perhaps more relatable to the audience. In the end, however, I chose realist, somewhat abstract, symbolic designs for sets and wardrobe to convey a clearer understanding of Mariam and Laila’s lifestyle and their environment.

In our opera designs and atmosphere, the modest mud house and seductive sunset behind splendid historical minarets visualize the city’s confusion and perturbance; the prison inside the historic castle tells of destruction of civilizations in the shadow of war; the bustling colorful bazaar juxtaposed against the silence of obscure shadows at the bus station remind us of the eternal battle of light against darkness. The bright light on the women’s faces, contrasted with the surrounding darkness on the stage creates a frame for conversation; the colorful clothes of women, in the most colorless and acrimonious scene, expresses hope and lends meaning to life.

For me, Mariam and Laila are the history, loyalty, courage, and perseverance of women in this unjust world. Mariam’s painful but dignified life gives us a sense of pride in and hope for humanity. Simultaneously, though, we indulge in being charmed by Laila’s romance, but in the end, dark overwhelm the allure of delightful love stories.

As you read in my bio I am filmmaker and my first experience started with theater. My films have been shown on many international screens and have received national and international prizes. However, working on my very first opera is a bittersweet story. It is the story of an Afghan woman director, who while undertaking the task of creating art to relate the story of her country’s women, in a blink of an eye, loses her homeland to the Taliban’s abyss and between Kabul and Seattle, suddenly becomes homeless.

Indeed, I was on my way to attend the first production meeting A Thousand Splendid Suns at the Seattle Opera on an August morning in 2021 that I received a text from my sister, Elka. A quick search through the internet confirmed her message. The Taliban had captured power in Afghanistan.

How was it possible that the same Taliban that had confined Afghan women and girls during their first rule in the 1990s, the same Taliban that had carried thousands of terrorist and suicide attacks on civilians, the same Taliban that were on international terrorist watch lists would be allowed to return to power?

Like millions of Afghans, I asked myself, why the world has abandoned the people of Afghanistan? How could they trust a barbaric extremist group? What happened to twenty years of global slogans in support of the women of Afghanistan?

As I turned the doorknob to the meeting room in Seattle Opera that day, I was no longer the same person. My mind, my view and indeed, my mission for this task changed. The excitement and personal elation vanished. My task was no longer to simply portray the universal pain, struggle, and perseverance of women through the story of two Afghan women. It became a duty to convey an unparalleled injustice to which my countrywomen are condemned.

It is of no importance where we come from. West, East, North, and South are political delineations. Our thoughts and emotions create our common and fundamental humanity, a commonality that no border can separate.

Every Afghan child has aspirations as big as every child in Seattle, Los Angeles, London. Every Afghan mother has as much compassion in her heart as every mother on Earth. However today, Afghan mothers are being flogged in front of their children and they witness their daughters being systematically deprived of basic rights.

Our pain is not only closing the doors of school to women. There the most radical terrorist group rules Afghanistan. They have attacked the foundations and values of society and are trying to change it based on their dark thoughts. They seek to brainwash the minds of children and young people. They propagate and teach prejudice and ignorance in schools and universities. The world does not see this great danger and is still looking for a deal with the Taliban. In their world, war makes men stronger and destroys women. This petrifying structure must change.

Let us lend our voice to a nation that is being held hostage at gunpoint by the terrorist Taliban. Let us put our humanist beliefs and slogans to practice and support the just cause of the women of Afghanistan. This is a collective human obligation. We are all responsible.

Your very presence at a performance demonstrates that the world’s conscious is awake. I thank you for showing solidarity.

I am also grateful to my incredibly talented and committed colleagues and Seattle Opera for providing the opportunity to tell this story. I know that in this frenzy market, it takes courage to deal with human-centered stories, and I value your courage.

Read more from Roya on her previous blog post.

A Thousand Splendid Suns opens February 25, 2023, at McCaw Hall. Tickets and info at seattleopera.org/suns.

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