At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, a young student by the name of Sonita Alizadeh from our own Wasatch Academy stole the spotlight. Sonita, a teenager from Afghanistan, came to Wasatch Academy after finding herself in a tragic situation, foreign to most students at boarding high schools in the U.S. — in order for her mother to feed her family, she intended to sell her daughter off for $9,000 to marry a strange man. Her flight from this unthinkable situation and her safe arrival at Wasatch Academy form the basis of this award-winning film.
At the time of filming, Sonita was living in Iran away from her family. Sonita’s mother had initially tried to sell her when she was 10 years old, but then again called and asked her to return to Afghanistan in order to marry her off. Rokhsareh Maghami, the director of the film, helped Sonita break free from this particular custom, using this very documentary to help Sonita break free of this prison and live out her dream.
Sonita’s dream is an unusual one for an Afghan teen. She wanted to be a rapper — but certainly Muslim culture made it difficult for her to do so – Afghanistan and Iran both forbid women from singing in public. Nonetheless, Sonita respects her religious traditions, asking Maghami to turn off the cameras while her hijab is removed, but she also makes a bold statement by putting a video of one of her songs on YouTube.
With the help of her YouTube video and the full length documentary, Sonita was able to secure a sponsorship and find refuge here at one of Utah’s top schools, Wasatch Academy, a boarding school where she is able to live out her dream. Through the opportunities available to her at U.S. boarding high schools, Sonita can continue her education. Now, Sonita wants to use her considerable communication skills to become a human rights attorney.
Sonita is on a mission to end child marriage. Her documentary has received high praise from film enthusiasts, and recently won the Audience Award for most popular film at the International Documentary Film Festival. The film has enabled her achieve world prominence in her field and led to her being selected by the BBC as one of the Top 100 Women in 2015, and “Foreign Policy” magazine as one of its leading Global Thinkers. The entire student body of Wasatch Academy was invited to attend the film screening at The Sundance Film Festival. This film has not only made Sonita herself famous but has helped place Wasatch Academy on the map as one of the top boarding high schools in the Western United States. It has also helped spread the message about child marriages, and how they affect people’s lives all over the world. Now that Sonita has settled into Wasatch Academy, she can live her dream — not only her dream to be a rapper, but to be a global advocate for human rights.