Afghan Star (2009) - Rotten Tomatoes

Afghan Star (2009)



Critic Consensus: An enlightening and sobering documentary on Afghanistan's very own X-Factor.

Movie Info

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
Rating: Unrated
Genre: Documentary, Television, Musical & Performing Arts, Art House & International, Special Interest
Directed By:
In Theaters:
On DVD: Mar 30, 2010
Zeitgeist Films - Official Site

News & Interviews for Afghan Star

Critic Reviews for Afghan Star

All Critics (59) | Top Critics (19)

While its style and structure conform to the well-worn template established by docs like Spellbound, its success lies in creating an accessible, fun way into serious issues.

Full Review… | November 17, 2011
Time Out
Top Critic

Of all the films to come out of the conflict, Afghan Star is the most provocative, because its message that people are essentially the same is a dubious, double-edge sword.

Full Review… | September 17, 2009
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Top Critic

Like The Kite Runner novel and movie, the documentary Afghan Star succeeds at dramatizing the lives of Afghans, but those we see on screen are real flesh-and-blood characters -- people who let their true feelings emerge.

Full Review… | August 21, 2009
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

An informative documentary revealing how decades of war and years of Taliban repression have fallen to the wayside, however briefly, as Kabul's answer to American Idol seduces a violence-weary Afghanistan.

Full Review… | August 21, 2009
Seattle Times
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | July 30, 2009
Boston Globe
Top Critic

This eye-opening film reveals that even systems as dubious as the Idol format mean dramatically different things when transferred to radically dissimilar cultures.

Full Review… | July 24, 2009
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Afghan Star

Interesting to see how a knock off of a western television show is made in a country with such strict laws regarding music, dance and even television in general make everything more difficult. What I enjoyed seeing most was how some people live with the fear instead of backing down on their "progressive" ideas. Americans need to be reminded how lucky we are and even what we are fighting for when we try to expand democracy. They feel voting for a singer is exercising democracy, but also live with fear they can lose their favorite new tv show at the same time.

Thomas Johnston

Super Reviewer

As televisions make a return to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, so too should remote controls that can change the channel, so those easily offended can watch something else and mind their business, especially as it concerns the musical competition, Afghan Star, where the winner gets $5,000. "Afghan Star" follows four of the finalists, Hameed, Rafi, Lima and Setara, who is also the most outspoken of the group, on and off stage to get a sense of how the contest is affecting their own lives and any resistance they face. Now, a singing competition might on the surface seem like a strange place to explore the changing state of freedoms in the country, but with any nation emerging from a repressive state, there has to be a first step(in this case, it is a dance step). In other times and places, it has been artists like Elvis Presley and Pedro Almodovar that led the charge.

So, while I agree with this moderately entertaining and insightful documentary that this television show where men and women occupy the same stage can lead to inspiring greater freedom, other conclusions concerning democracy and unity I am less sure of. While the contestants do run political style campaigns, this really should not be confused with the ballot box. Also, I bet that each ethnic group votes for their own primarily.

Walter M.

Super Reviewer

Far better than the original American or Pop Idol, Afghan Star depicts people erupting after having their collective expressions put under the boot of the Taliban. The idols are unique and terribly fun to watch.

John Ballantine
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

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