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Afghanistan, Ireland, Japan · 2003
Rated PG-13 · 1h 23m
Director Siddiq Barmak
Starring Marina Golbahari, Arif Herati, Zubaida Sahar, Mohammad Nadir Khwaja
Genre Drama

A teenaged girl and her mother lose their jobs after the Taliban close a hospital. Other repressive Taliban policies towards women restrict their ability to look for work, forcing the young girl to disguise herself as a boy, calling herself ‘Osama’. Inspired by a true story, and the first Afghan film shot since the fall of the Taliban.

Stream Osama

What are people saying?

Billy Donoso Profile picture for Billy Donoso

While a film is an artistic end in itself, 'Osama' is a reminder of the power that films can have in the reality beyond the four corners of the frame. It was the first film shot and produced in Afghanistan after the Taliban took over in 1996 and banned film production altogether, and what a scathing condemnation of authoritarianism it is! Barmak very clearly delineates the good— the children, women, and men in solidarity— with the bad— the power-hungry men who seek to subjugate anybody weaker than them and push this cycle onto other men from a young age. It is a shocking film, and there is some necessary reflection for other Westerners that watch this movie. Do I see Islam when I watch this film, or do I see religious fundamentalism taken to its most violent extreme? I see the latter, as I have known a great deal of good Muslim people in my life, and yet I am wearily aware that for those who have not had this contact with others, they may attribute the tragedy at the core of this film to a cultural relativism and a more sophisticated West, which could not be further from the truth. But there is a facet to this perspective of mine that I, and others, should be acutely aware of as well. That is, that the loud violence of the Taliban comes front and center in my mind while the people of virtue shown in the film only come as an afterthought. That's what struck me so much when I watched the scene of the disabled little boy who could not keep up with the other people who all walked steadfastly ahead of him, before turning a corner and disappearing as Barmak lingers on this poor limping boy. When we try to be in solidarity with people, we really, really have to be in solidarity with people. We have to care for this little boy who cannot even find care from the others who are so deeply oppressed in this film. The foreign journalist videotapes the women's march at the beginning of the film, and despite how many faces and bodies fill the scene, we have to remember that this, too, is a microscopic view of how widespread authoritarianism's reach is. 'Osama' is such a powerful exercise in raw empathy and I've barely even touched on the protagonist of this film, Osama herself, whose story is inspired by real events. My advice to anybody who wants to watch this is to be acutely present in the moment while you watch the film and feel every image and sound Barmak meticulously presents you, and to use the experience as a launching pad to study the ongoing reality that in many cases persists today, almost twenty years later.

What are critics saying?


The New York Times by Dana Stevens

Osama's unvarnished vulnerability, along with the director's combination of tough-mindedness and lyricism, prevents the movie from becoming at all sentimental; instead, it is beautiful, thoughtful and almost unbearably sad.


Variety by Deborah Young

Apart from its historical interest, this tragic tale of religious extremism and misogyny is a very good film able to catch audiences up emotionally.


The A.V. Club by Keith Phipps

Effective as a drama as it spirals Golbahari deeper into her nightmarish world, Osama is similarly powerful as a fictionalized account of the Taliban's obscene wish for a world where the stringent enforcement of religious laws took the place of instinctual human kindness.


Entertainment Weekly by Lisa Schwarzbaum

The movie is a rare uncensored postcard from a ruined place, a document at once depressing and hideously beautiful that sketches the real hardships of trampled people -- specifically women -- with authority and compelling simplicity.


L.A. Weekly by Scott Foundas

At the center...lies the stunning Golbahari, a nonprofessional who recalls some of Bresson's most haunting model-actors in her intense, anguished grace.

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