Muslim women overcome obstacles and adversity to compete on Zanzibar's women's soccer team.
What are we up to?
My name is Megan and together with my partner in crime, Katie Ty, I'm heading to Zanzibar to make a film about a women's soccer team in a Muslim state where girls tend to be veiled and sports are mostly for men. The New Generation Queens, Zanzibar's only women's soccer team until recently, battle cultural barriers and economic challenges to make it to practice every day. They shed their everyday clothes, uncover Manchester United jerseys, lace their cleats, and hit the field. There, these impressive young women go up against full grown men, showing the skills that come with hardwork and dedication. In the last few months, they've inspired more and more young women to play the game, and there are now four teams on the island. In spite of the odds, women are picking up the game.
Our film will examine the myriad challenges facing these girls--from the opposing teams to their own families. We will explore the intersection of religion, culture, gender, and development through the compelling and just plain awesome stories of these young women who play soccer.
"Zanzibar?" you may be wondering.
Yes, Zanzibar is an island off the coast of East Africa that is as magical and intoxicating a place as its name evokes. Once known as the spice islands, an entrepôt to East Africa for hundreds of years, Zanzibar is now home to a population of Africans, Persians, Arabs, south Asians, Europeans--and a dominant Muslim culture (Zanzibar is 99% Muslim). Technically, Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous state which is a part of Tanzania (in the 1960s Zanzibar + Tanganyika formed Tanzania). Though some Zanzibaris want independence from the mainland, the island is usually a quiet and peaceful place. Nowadays, Zanzibar is best known for its idyllic beaches and tourism industry; however, there is so much more to this place once you cover up your bikinis and head into the communities.
Historically women's sports have not been prioritized in Zanzibar, but they have been allowed to play netball, handball and basketball. Soccer, on the other hand, has not been an option for young women, because elders in the community view it as immoral for women to play the game. When a Swedish soccer team visited Zanzibar in 1988 and tried to find a team to play against, there were no women's soccer teams in Zanzibar. Their visit prompted the start of The Women Fighters, Zanzibar's first women's soccer team. The Women Fighters found great success and even toured in Germany but eventually the team fell apart due to conflicts within the team leadership. The players, however, would not be stopped: they regrouped to become The New Generation Queens, now the leading team among four Zanzibari women's soccer teams!
Ty is... awesome. Known in some circles as Katie, Ty graduated from Harvard in 2010/2011 with a degree in Visual and Environmental Studies, a fancy way of saying she was an art major. At Harvard, she took her sweet time graduating, finding ways and funds to take time off from school to pursue her love of travel and documentary filmmaking. She spent two semesters and three summers in India and Nepal, making ethnographic films and teaching English in three different deaf schools. You can watch her capstone project—a 23-minute ethnography in a deaf kindergarten classroom—over on Vimeo by clicking here (https://vimeo.com/31545871). She was drawn to this project because, as one of three women to be the first to play on her high school football team, she recognizes the importance of these women empowering themselves and others through athletics; their determination is paving the way for girls and women to pursue every athletic passion.
Megan (also a member of team awesome) is a graduate student at Stanford University. Since her first visit to Zanzibar in 2007, Megan has become enamored with the island, its culture, and especially its women’s soccer team. Megan first began playing soccer with the New Generation Queens in March 2012, and she has been harboring ideas for this movie since then. Finding a women's team in Zanzibar was a top priority when Megan first came to the island for work-- she has long been a soccer fanatic (some say obsessed). The sport and her coaches and teammates (at Brearley, the Asphalt Green, the Manhattan Soccer Club, Harvard, Cambridge and Silicon Valley) have been life changing. If she can help others experience the joy, confidence and work ethic that soccer brought her... well, she thinks that would be pretty great. Her very amateur past films include The GAYmazing Race Movie (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Og0_ZL1DHs) and Conscience and Consciousness, her high school senior project which won the UN Youth Summer Award in 2006. Megan met Ty as freshmen at Harvard and can't believe her luck to have such an awesome teammate on this project.
What drew us to make this film?
The simple answer to this question is: the women. Not only were the players on the team immediately compelling, and their stories even more so, but they have been advocating for this project from the beginning so that they can show other young women in Zanzibar that there is an opportunity for them to play soccer, be active, and experience the empowerment that sports can bring to one's life. We hope that our movie can help do that, at the same time as it can honor the hard work and struggle that the current players face. We think that the players we've met are truly inspirational, and that they have persisted (some for more than ten years) in a uniquely difficult environment. This documentary will likely reflect a unique moment in history, as it is our hope and the hope of these women that five or ten years from now, women will be able to play any sport in Zanzibar without facing criticism and shame. In the meantime, these girls are pioneers and their stories inspire.
What will the final product be?
Our documentary, Veils and Cleats, will be a way of sharing with all of you around the world, the stories that have astonished and impressed us here in Zanzibar. We will submit the finished doc to film festivals and print DVD copies. At the same time as we make a documentary about the girls, we are making a video for/with the girls so that they can share their story--and the opportunity that sports bring--with other girls and women in Zanzibar.
What will the funds be used for?
This summer Megan got a grant from the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies at Stanford University to do a project on women and Islam. The grant got the project underway, and we have set up this kickstarter to fund the additional costs we have as a team. The big costs are flights but we've also equipped ourselves with malaria meds, a backup harddrive and some microphones so that you can hear what the girls have to say over the noises of the chickens squawking, babies crying, motorcycles zooming and calls to prayer.
Friday, September 6, 2013
UPDATE #1: Wow! A huge thank you to everyone who has supported us so far!
We are floored that only 28 hours after our launch, we reached our goal! We are so amazed and grateful to all who have contributed, not only with funds, but with kind words, long-distance hugs, and constructive feedback. We are sincerely touched by the generosity and encouragement we have received from all of you.
For those who are considering or interested in supporting us further, your contributions are still invaluable to making this project. When we set our original goal of $2,500, we couldn't have predicted the strength and support of our community and created a goal we felt would be achievable, though it was short of covering all overhead costs. With additional contributions, we will be able to fully fund the cost of shooting this documentary, as well as editing and DVD production. Every dollar you contribute will go toward the creation of the film and make it that much better! Although Kickstarter doesn't allow for increases to our original goal, we can go beyond it, and we are deeply grateful for your continued support.
Thank you again--we feel overwhelmed by the love and generosity you have shown us. Love from Zanzibar,
Megan & Ty
Monday, September 9, 2013
UPDATE #2: Your continued support will make a huge difference!
We wanted to let you know why and how your continued support will make this project better. First of all, we have been shooting on a shoestring budget, literally... We tied our external mic to the camera with a shoelace.
Second, now that our Kickstarter has reached $3000 we have covered our costs for while we are here shooting in Zanzibar but our remaining costs are outlined below.
1. Translation (Up to $1000). We need to hire a translator in order to capture the nuance and detail that Megan's non-native Swahili skills miss. This is a priority for us, and we may have up to 60hrs of footage that needs translation.
2. Editing software ($300). Final cut pro is the best editing software out there and it is a must for making this a professional quality documentary.
3. Post-production (~ $300). Printing DVDs, labels and cases so that we can distribute the movie.
4. Applications to film-festivals (~ $500). Film festivals typically have $50 application fees and we are hoping to apply to around 10 of them. Let us know if you have any questions. Most of all, we can't thank you enough!
Saturday, September 14, 2013
UPDATE #3: Veils and Cleats
Since we launched our kickstarter, we’ve made the decision to make a small but intentional adjustment to the name of our film. Say goodbye Veils to Cleats. And meet Veils and Cleats. We originally started calling our documentary Veils to Cleats because we thought that this title reflected the visual transformation that we were seeing every day. Though the girls on the team make individual choices about how they dress before practices begin (some choose to cover their heads, others do not), they all uncover their heads to play, and many even play in shorts. While this is true in Zanzibar, we recently learned that FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football, made a groundbreaking decision to allow women to wear hijab in official soccer matches. Women on the Iranian and Pakistani national teams (to name just a few) compete in veils and cleats. We think that this is pretty cool, and we wouldn’t want our title Veils to Cleats to suggest that those two things are incompatible. After spending the last few weeks talking to these Zanzibari soccer players every day, we’ve learned that one of the most important messages that they want to share with their community is that women’s soccer + Islam = okay.
We like our new title a lot, but nothing is perfect. The term “veil” is still a politically charged word that comes with a lot of Orientalist baggage. Fortunately, we think that our project might be able to make a positive contribution to dialogue and so we’re taking the risk and sticking with "veil." One of the things we think is so cool about this team in Zanzibar is that the girls wear one thing on the field, another thing off, and they don't necessarily have to be boxed in. Their experience complicates the story about choosing to cover one's head or not and introduces a level of fluidity that goes beyond a veiled/un-veiled binary. Personally, Ty and I support any decision the girls make on whether they cover their heads. We do not intend for our documentary to make a statement about whether or not women should be veiled, we just observed that in this space, removing the veil is a symbol of the girls’ decision to do something unusual. At the of the day, what we say about the veil will only be what the girls on the team want to say about it-- as they are far more qualified than we are to speak to its significance in their lives and their soccer playing.
We hope that this can be an ongoing conversation and an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the dialogue on women, Islam and sports. In that spirit, we encourage you to give Ty’s blog a read to hear more of our reflections on this decision: http://www.fuzzytravel.com/tygielski/32598-veils-cleats.html and we would love to hear your thoughts so please comment, question and let us know what you think! We want to thank blogger, Shireen Ahmed, and classmate, Hala Iqbal for their advice as well- and you can read Shireen’s blog for many more reflections on this matter. Lastly, we are creating a new facebook page: facebook.com/veilsandcleats where you can continue to see pictures, follow our progress, and soon, meet the team.
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
We are beginning this Kickstarter one week into our project and we've already seen the challenges along the way--mostly having to do with time and speed. Most things move slowly, but somehow Swahili can be spoken quickly, and the days fly. Our commitment to the project can weather any challenges. The bulk of our work will be editing after we return to California, and we hope to Zanzibar if their continued stories require. We're qualified to overcome the risks that we face because we care deeply about seeing the project through, and we plan to do everything we can to undergo the project collaboratively with the women on the team.
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.
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