Female Afghan Filmmaker Roya Sadat Directs ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ To Roaring Applause at Seattle Opera


The latest: Herat-born eminent female filmmaker Roya Sadat directed a presentation of “A Thousand Splendid Suns” at the Seattle Opera on Saturday. The female Afghan filmmaker is working thousands of miles away to help bring to life a wildly popular tale of two heroines living in her homeland, including under the group’s first reign.


Go deeper:

  • The world premiere of Seattle Opera’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns” opens Saturday evening. It is based on a novel by Kabul-born author Khaled Hosseini that explores the inner worlds of Mariam and Laila over decades of Afghan history, some with stark parallels to the present.
  • The presentation assumes importance because of the stark parallels between the book and the present day Afghanistan under the Taliban rule.
  • Also, the presentation assumes importance is that the director, Sadat, has endured the Taliban’s rule in the 90s and had previously thought that the nightmare was over. However, with the group taking over in 2021, everything was like déjà vu for her.
  • Sadat said that when the Kabul takeover occurred, directing “A Thousand Splendid Suns” took on a new meaning. “Suddenly, the topic changed in my mind, that ‘Oh my God, now this story is going to repeat again. Now, maybe, a thousand Laila and Mariam are going to be in the same situation,’” she said.
  • In her director’s statement, Sadat writes about becoming “homeless” in the blink of an eye and describes how the goal of her work has evolved.
  • “My task was no longer to simply portray the universal pain, struggle, and perseverance of women through the story of two Afghan women,” she said. “It became a duty to convey an unparalleled injustice to which my countrywomen are condemned.”


Take note of the storyboard: The presentation showcases the story of a book written by Khaled  Hosseini. The critically-acclaimed novel, originally published in 2007, tells the story of two women in Afghanistan – Mariam and Laila who forge a deep friendship as they endure violence at home – and a government that doesn’t recognize the rights of women.

  • Sadat, too, had faced problems while growing up under the Taliban regime as she was a female and was not allowed to get education. She actually started writing a script that later turned into her first movie in her home kitchen.
  • As the Taliban rule was coming to a close, Sadat used to direct theatrical scenes critical of the group’s treatment of women under their rule, but all in fear and in hiding.
  • After the Taliban’s fall, Sadat and her sister co-founded Roya Film House, a company that has produced films and TV dramas.
  • Working on the Seattle opera, she said, has been of special significance.


Zoom out: The presentation is a grim reminder of the present status of Afghanistan where the rights of women and girls have disappeared and the Taliban has suppressed them from social life too.

  • With its hardline Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in place after it seized power, the Taliban government started its moral policing against women.
  • The women’s cricket team in Afghanistan has been banned by the Taliban government, they have been banned from gyms, they are not allowed to work on TV without a hijab and are forced to wear head-to-toe clothing (chadori) in public. Women can’t even visit parks or travel to far distances without a Mahram. And now, breaking the final straw, Taliban leaders have also imposed a permanent ban on women attending universities and have stopped school education for girls. Even, in the work sphere, women have been banned from working for NGOs or in government departments.
  • Even, Hosseini, the book’s author lamented that the international spotlight on Afghanistan seemed to have faded. He hopes the opera’s audience will be moved by the music, but also that the production, even if in limited ways, can spark conversations about the situation there. “I hope that this opera is an expression of the collective struggles and sacrifices of Afghans over the last four decades, particularly Afghan women.”
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