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Sonita Alizadeh is an Afghan teenager living in Iran who dreams of being a singer and rapper. She says that when she performs, she is able to fight back against the restrictions of a society where women are often looked at as property for marriage. (In Iran, girls aren’t even supposed to sing publicly.) When a video of her singing becomes an online sensation, Sonita wins a local competition. However, the teenager also has to deal with the backlash to this performance and greater pressure from her traditional family.

Sonita is a disarming glimpse behind the music of an inspiring young songwriter in the Middle East. The musician has to balance her adoration for pop and hip hop music with the conventions of a society where she doesn’t fit in. The film explores the difficulty that a woman faces when trying to capture a recording deal – especially since so many people think her singing is indecent. The heroine, charismatic and defiant, is a fascinating subject. Her lyrics are poetic, penetrating and hard to forget.

Performance is a central theme of Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s film, which hits its peak when Sonita shares her blistering feminist anthem. Maghami’s close bond with her subject becomes the film’s biggest strength and weakness. Their friendship ensures we get many revealing moments with the aspiring singer. However, halfway through, we learn that Maghami’s crew paid thousands of dollars to keep Sonita safe.