The film came into being as a part of The Pad Project, started by the students at the Oakwood School in Los Angeles and their teacher, Melissa Berton.
I m not crying because I am on my period or anything. I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar.” Starting off her acceptance speech with tears in her eyes, joy on her face, and humbled by the honor, the 25-year-old Rayka Zehtabchi became the first Iranian-American woman to win an Oscar whose short documentary, “Period. End of Sentence”, was awarded the Best film in the Short Documentary category. The film came into being as a part of The Pad Project, started by the students at the Oakwood School in Los Angeles and their teacher, Melissa Berton.
Set in the village Kathikhera near Hapur district of Uttar Pradesh, the documentary was produced by Indian Producer Guneet Monga who had produced critically and widely acclaimed movies such as Lunchbox and Massan.
The director of the Academy Winner documentary, Rayka Zehtabchi, an Iranian-American film director based in Los Angeles, made her directorial debut with Madaran, an Iranian language short film. Screening worldwide at film festivals, the critically acclaimed Madaran won jury awards at Hollyshorts, Cleveland International and Urbanworld and was director’s first nomination at Oscars. Rayka’s documentary, “Period. End of Sentence.”, is about a group of Village women in the Uttar Pradesh district of Northern India who start a sanitary pad business in an effort to improve feminine hygiene. The documentary, which was globally released on digital entertainment platform, Netflix, ponders around the subject of how menstruation is treated as a taboo in India, highlighting the fact that thousands of Indian women drop out of school and wave a bitter goodbye to education every year due to their periods and lack of access to sanitary pads. Taking us on the journey of the women of Kathikera Village, the documentary shows how the women of the village become financially dependent by manufacturing and marketing pads under the brand name “FLY”. Dropping attention to the unhygienic condition of women which leads to several health problems, the documentary creates a revolution of fighting the deep-rooted stigma.
Rayka Zehtabchi flew to India twice in 2017 to film the project, just one year after she graduated from the University of Southern California of Cinematic Arts. Telling AFIabout the inspiration behind the documentary, Rayka said, “It was remarkable and inspiring for me to think that this was all started by a group of 15- and 16-year-old girls with their high school teacher. They were raising money to send a sanitary pad machine to a village in India and they felt the best way to maximize the impact of the project was to make a documentary about the whole process. I kept asking myself, 'Why have I never heard of this issue?' Stating the fact that the work of the girls and disadvantages of the women around the world need to be highlighted, Rayka Zehtabchi concluded with, "Being a woman is enough of a reason to be inspired and want to take action."
Guneet Monga one of the finest movie producers from India and the founder of Sikhya Entertainment was a part of the Oscar-winning documentary. The short film has been produced by Guneet Monga’s Sikhya Entertainment. Giving a nod to Guneet Mongain in her Oscar acceptance speech, Rayka Zehtabchi said, “Guneet Monga - know that you have been empowering women all over the world fight for menstrual equality.”
The stars of the documentary, “Period. End of Sentence”, in an interview with The Quint told that the quiet revolution in their village began in 2017 when a small sanitary pad-manufacturing machine was installed in Kathikhera. Shabana, an area coordinator with Action India, said, “The pad project created a ruckus in the village. Cameras followed soon after the machines were installed. People also called the project illegal. They (people from the village) said they would not let us set the machine. We faced a lot of opposition.”
Menstruation entered the mainstream media when period products started to advertise. At that time the period products advertisements promoted the idea that menstruation is shameful. The majority of the time when menstruation was mentioned in the pop culture, it was in a way that shamed people with periods or PMS in a joking way. The first time the word “period” was uttered in a commercial was by Courtney Cox in a Tampax advertisement in 1985.
Despite this win on the biggest stage for the biggest award in Hollywood (Academy), where the film brought up the topic of menstruation in front of 29.6 million global audiences, the menstrual movement is still fighting for a number of policies that promote menstrual equality like trying to get proper washrooms for women, trying to get period products into school restrooms and advocating for programs to acknowledge period products as necessities. In developing countries, a girl’s first period can lead to her dropping out of school.
The Period team co-founded the “The Pad Project”, a non-profit corporation to fight the imputation of menstruation and revamp feminine hygiene worldwide. The non-profit organization works to raise money and distribute machines that make biodegradable and affordable pads available to women in rural India.
Too many girls cannot afford or access sanitary pads, so when they get their period, they have to use unsanitary alternatives like dirty rags, a cloth or leaves. Not only they invite the risk of infection every time their period comes, but they also have to miss their school. The executive producer of the documentary and a student at the Yale University, Sophie Ascheim said that “Our hope in making this documentary was to shine a light on the stigma that keeps girls in the dark about their own bodies, and from here, we really want to continue that work through the nonprofit (The Pad Project).”
The ladies of the film ended their Oscar acceptance speech on a high note with a phrase that empowered women all around the globe, “Period end of sentence not an end to a girl's education.”