Here is something timely for the New Year. With Donald Trump calling for not allowing any Muslims to enter the U.S. (“Donald Trump: Ban all Muslim travel to U.S.”; CNN, December 8, 2015), the French government passing a law against the wearing of burkas (“French ban on face covering”; Wikipedia, November 21, 2015), and the news that a Muslim family in Britain has just been refused permission to fly to Disneyland (“Britain outraged after U.S. bars Muslim family from flying to Disneyland”; Studio City Patch, December 24, 2015), it seems like a good time to remind American animation fans that the Muslim burka (or burqa – note in the news articles how the spelling often shifts in the same sentence) face-covering dress is very popular in animation with costumed-hero fans in Pakistan and neighboring countries.
“Burka Avenger is a multi-award winning Pakistani animated television series”, its Wikipedia entry begins. “It was produced at Unicorn Black Studios in Islamabad, Pakistan.” “The Urdu language series first aired on 28 July 2013.” It is currently in its third season of 13 episodes each. Animation Xpress says, “Burka Avenger sets Season 4 rolling with a line of merchandise. The superheroine in burka, Burka Avenger who has won hearts not just in Pakistan but also in India and Afghanistan has now got her own merchandise line that includes not just T-shirts, watches but also Burka Avenger action figure. This is probably the first time in history of Pakistan that a locally produced TV character will be getting its own merchandise line.” (December 24, 2015) Hindustan Times reported in April 2015 that the program was about to launch on Indian TV, dubbed into Hindi, English, Tamil, and Telugu.
Burka Avenger is still almost unknown in America despite several prestigious American awards and favorable press in Time magazine and national newspapers like the Washington Post. Spreading the awareness of its existence may help to counter the unfair image of all Muslims being dangerous religious fanatics.
Burka Avenger features Jiya, a young “inspirational teacher” at an all-girls school in the fictional town of Halwapur. She fights crime, corrupt politicians, mercenaries, reactionaries, and an evil magician with a fetish for anime-style giant robots, as the masked Burka Avenger. She uses the fictional martial art of Takht Kabaddi, throwing books and pens with crippling accuracy against her enemies.
The good guys are Kabbadi Jan, her foster father who is the custodian of Takht Kabaddi and her mentor; the three children Ashu, Immi (twins), and Mooli (comic relief), and Mooli’s pet goat Golu. The villains are Baba Bandook, an evil magician, and his henchmen Tinda, Khamba, and Munna; and Vadero Pajero, the corrupt mayor of Halwapur.
The program is frankly described on Wikipedia as “Edutainment”. It is an obvious propaganda campaign against the Taliban and other reactionary extremist movements that demand that all education of girls and women cease. They have been burning and blowing up such schools, and attacking girl students. Burka Avenger is one Pakistani intellectual group’s effort to combat this. It was created, produced, directed, and co-written by famous Pakistani rock star and social activist Aaron Haroon Rashid (who uses only the name Haroon). The program also promotes similar education, such as the benefits of inoculation against polio and other diseases. (The entire pro-inoculation episode is on the program’s website.)
One of the program’s subliminal messages is that the burka is not always a symbol of male oppression of women. Some women like the burka and wear it by choice. Women should have the choice to wear a burka or not, not be forced to wear one – or forced to be “liberated” from wearing one.
Frankly, a burka looks to me like a singularly impractical costume in which to fight crime. But many American superhero costumes look equally impractical. Have you ever compared the comic-book Spy Smasher’s dynamic flowing cape with the Republic Pictures 1942 live-action serial, where the cape constantly looks like it’s about to either snag on something or trip Spy Smasher up? Brad Bird said it best in The Incredibles: No Flowing Capes! And flowing dresses, either.