Who would’ve expected a documentary about menstruation pads to take home an Oscar? Certainly not the women behind the short documentary Period. End of Sentence, which earned an Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) over the weekend. Director Rayka Zehtabchi, in tears while accepting the Academy Award, explained, “I’m not crying because I’m on my period, or anything. I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” (which brought menstruating viewers like me to tears).
We met so many incredible filmmakers during our time @sundancefest, amongst them was film director Rayka Zehtabchi, her documentary short "Period. End of Sentence" is nominated for an Oscar this Sunday. It's an incredible story that has captivated the hearts of many. @TheAcademy pic.twitter.com/MC8a8AKJSH
— LightWorkers (@LightWorkers) February 23, 2019
Zehtabchi, the first Iranian-American woman to win an Oscar, shares the award with producer Melissa Berton, who works as a high school English teacher in Los Angeles. ”I share this with teachers and with students around the world. A period should end a sentence — not a girl’s education!” Berton was referring to the way that period poverty can lead women to improvised products during their period. Using items like dirty rags can lead to infections and other health complications. Period stigma, too, is harmful to women who feel too ashamed about menstruating to even leave home. Between sickness and stigma, menstrual inequity has kept girls from attending school and have prevented women from working, all around the world.
Period. End of Sentence takes place in a small Indian village that is the new home to a machine that makes biodegradable sanitary pads from local materials. The pad-making machine is a sort of press invented by a man named Muruganantham. In the film, we watch as Muruganantham demonstrates to a crowd of women how to make pads; many of the women had never heard of a sanitary pad before. “We use cloth,” one of them explained. As a manually operated machine, the production of pads requires manpower, which inevitably creates new jobs for women in the community.
The filmmakers didn’t have an Oscar nomination in mind when they decided to take on this project. “When we started this project, we really had no idea how far it would come,” said executive producer Avery Siegel in an interview with People. They funded the film through grassroots efforts in the community, as well as Kickstarter. But that’s all beside the point. Zehtabchi, Berton, and their team produced the documentary to raise awareness for The Pad Project, a non-profit organization that funds these machines and places them in communities that don’t have access to feminine products. The organization also supports teachers and activists who work to educate local communities about the machine and what it can provide, and pushes for the destigmatization of periods. “The men started actually wanting to learn about the project, and they even tried to make their own pads,” explained Siegel.
Catch the film on Netflix, and make sure to check out The Pad Project’s homepage to see how you can help support the movement for menstrual equity.