Period Documentary Oscar Proves How Far We’ve Come in Talking About Menstruation
The aim of Period. End of Sentence., a short documentary about menstruation equity set in a rural Indian village, was to eradicate the shame and stigma around periods. Arguably, its Oscar win last night was an important step in that direction.
Produced by Guneet Monga’s Sikhya Entertainment (which has backed films like The Lunchbox and Masaan), the tight, 26-minute film does a lot to explore both the stigma around menstruation and possible solutions to empower women in India. Period. End of Sentence. opens in Hapur, about 60 kilometers from Delhi, with people being asked if they know what periods are. While girls giggle and boys shift awkwardly in their seats, an older woman explains that the reason women menstruate is “something only God knows, the dirty blood that comes out.”
The shame and misinformation about the subject makes way, however, for something more poignant. The women in the village get a pad machine, from India’s very own ‘Pad Man,’ Arunachalam Muruganantham. As women in the village start to operate the pad machine, manufacturing and selling low-cost sanitary pads to other women, or getting pharmacists to agree to stock them in their stores, there’s a visible change in how they talk and move about the village.
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Sneha, the arguable protagonist of the documentary, goes door-to-door demonstrating how the pads work and selling them to women, so she can pay her way through police training school. There’s an endearing shot of her, after making a hard-won sale, where she turns to the camera and happily says, “Money in pocket.”
Sneha, along with half a dozen other women in the film, walked the red carpet at the 91st Academy Awards, as did the high school students from Oakland School who, with their teacher Melissa Berton, launched The Pad Project initiative that funded this documentary. Although the idea for the documentary came from the students, the project did have more than a foot in the door, with Hollywood industry insiders like Lisa Taback and Garrett Schiff assisting, and stars like Sara Gilbert and Kiefer Sutherland promoting it on social media. The film’s path to success definitely had a lot of institutional support, but even with this, it was still a victory to have a film about periods win an Oscar.
The stigma around menstruation is still very much prevalent, in the U.S. as well as in India. The Hollywood Reporter found that an anonymous member of the Academy said he wouldn’t vote for Period. End of Sentence. because “it’s well done, but 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.”
The irony of a male director not voting for a documentary trying to destigmatize menstruation because he finds it “icky,” just makes the Oscars win more satisfying. We don’t just need the narrative around periods to change; we need one to exist in the first place. In her acceptance speech, director Rayka Zehtabchi exclaimed, “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” Hopefully we’ll someday get to a place where menstruation is so normalized that making an award-winning film about it isn’t even necessary.