Review: Afghan Dreamers


On Fridays, when the men aren’t around, Lida’s father takes her to the mechanic shop to work on cars. She demonstrates her skill at changing a tire, spinning the socket wrench like a pro. Rare for women in her country, she also drives. But her primary focus is working with the engines. Her high school dream is to qualify as an engineer on her country’s first robotic team.

There are both exhilarating and tragic moments in this story because it begins in 2017, when the US was stationed in Afghanistan and encouraging the education of girls. But it involves the murder of a father, a bombing of the girls’ school and ends when the US retreat in the late summer of 2021. Then the Taliban takes over and the girls become a target.

But initially, there is an idea for an all-girl team. Roya Mahboob, Afghan entrepreneur and business woman, founded the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, also known as the Afghan Dreamers, in 2017. There was an application process with150 girls applying. Twelve were selected for the first team. They trained in the basement of Mahboob’s parents’ home with scrap metal under the guidance of their coach, Mahboob’s brother, Alireza Mehraban.

Then there is their participation. Lida and her team-mates almost didn’t get visas to participate in The FIRST Global Challenge, an international robotics competition held that year in Washington DC. It wasn’t because of Afghan policy but because then-President Donald Trump announced that he would not allow terrorists into the US. He equated anyone from a Muslim country with terrorism and banned them from US entry. The team applied twice at the US embassy in Kabul, but were denied.

However, thanks to a last-minute intervention by Bernie Sanders and Senator Shaheen, a retired educator and current New Hampshire senator, the girls got their visas within one desperate week of the competition. Frustratingly, they were further handicapped by a Customs delay of their robotic materials so they had significantly less time than their competitors to prepare their robot.

Two of the girls are the mechanics and the other two are programmers. They work excitedly together like Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” to get their work assignment done before the time is up.

The FIRST Olympic-style robotics competition in robotics is under the umbrella of FIRST, an international nonprofit based in New Hampshire. The acronym means For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. It was founded by Dean Kamen, creater of the Segway, and Woodie Flowers in 1989 with a focus on promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics throughout the world. It was Kamen who enlisted Mahboob in this Afghan venture and sent her the robotic materials to assemble in her parents’ basement.

“Afghan Dreamers” has garnered at least two major awards. In 2022, while on the film festival circuit, it won the Best Human Rights Film Award at Galway in Ireland and the Audience Award at the Valladolid International Film Festival in Spain.

In late April 2023, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution demanding the Taliban “ swiftly reverse the policies and practices that restrict the enjoyment by women and girls of their human rights and fundamental freedoms including related to their access to education, employment, freedom of
movement, and women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in public life.”

What happens to the girls, who end up becoming famous throughout Afghanistan, and what happens to their dreams, is the content of this amazingly important and touching film.

Rating: 10/10


Director: David Greenwald
Executive Producers: Sheila Nevins and Ellen Goosenberg Kent
Producers: David Cowan and Beth Murphy
Featuring: Fatemah Qaderyan, Lida Asisi, Somaya Faruqi, Kapsar Roshan, and Saghar Salehi
Release: May 23, 2023 (US)
How to see: Paramount +

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