Sonita (3 stars)


Crowd-pleasing documentary about a young Afghan rapper from director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami

The role of the arts in helping people to process trauma and assert their individuality comes to the fore, along with the miserable experiences of child refugees and child brides, in a punchy, crowd-pleasing documentary about a young Afghan woman who becomes a rapper.

At 14, Sonita has lived as an undocumented refugee in Iran for ten years, and has constructed a dream future – recorded in scrapbook form – of luxury living drawn from hip-hop culture. Her music is inspired by Michael Jackson and Rihanna, but her lyrics are born from the stories she hears from other young women she knows: of child marriage, domestic violence and being sold off by their families for dowries.

The implied equivalence of fame, fortune, high fashion and rap music with female emancipation isn't wholly comfortable, and filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami can also seem overly preoccupied, in her lines of questioning, with stoking this glorification of Western freedoms: asking Sonita why she won't appear unveiled on camera; probing whether she's been in love. There's a danger with this sort of material of presenting veiled women of colour as inevitably cowed and imprisoned until Western contacts and influences should deign to free them. Still, what's at stake at a personal level for Sonita becomes unambiguous, and her future direction undeniably a matter of tension and intrigue, once her mother arrives from Afghanistan to try and persuade her into a marriage for money.

While Ghaemmaghami is clearly orchestrating what she shows in order to build a dramatic narrative and make a point – the conversations and scenarios filmed have a distinctly directed, reconstructed feel – it's clear that Sonita's status as a commodity in the eyes of her family is no fiction, and nor is her inexorable development as an artist and an activist over the three years of filming.

Limited release from Fri 21 Oct.


  • 3 stars
  • 2015
  • Germany / Switzerland / Iran
  • 1h 31min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami
  • Cast: Sonita Alizadeh, Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami
  • UK release: 21 October 2016

Punchy, crowd-pleasing documentary about Afghan refugee rapper Sonita Alizadeh, whose songs are about the issues facing she and young women like her: child marriage, domestic violence. Director Ghaemmaghami clearly orchestrates what she shows, but it's also clear that Sonita's family regard (or regarded) her as a…