An exciting new show from Pakistan has caught the world’s attention, which was great for the five minutes before it was hijacked by a debate notable for its levels of misplaced angst. Burka Avenger, an animated show for children airing on Geo TV, opens in an idyllic green valley of happy, frolicking villagers reminiscent of the Swat region where Malala Yousafzai was shot. Soon their world changes with the arrival of a Taliban-like villain with a flowing beard and a corrupt politician based on Pakistani feudal lords. The local girls’ school is shut down, and all hope seems lost, until a shadowy figure emerges, a heroine draped in black, felling baddies under the cover of night. Turns out, she’s the village teacher, Jiya—a mild-mannered educationalist by day and a superheroine by night, using pens, books, and a considerable expertise in martial arts to bring peace back to her people. All this, and it boasts a really catchy theme song, “Don’t Mess With the Lady in Black.” With its focus on education and its strong female lead, the show seemed sure to win accolades for such a positive message directed at Pakistan’s youth.
But the lady in black is being messed with—and not, as one would assume, by the local Taliban. Instead, Burka Avenger has taken a beating at the hands of the Western, and more recently the Indian, media, along with a handful of privileged Pakistanis. For while she teaches in a shalwar kameez with her head bare, the disguise she wears at night to pulverize those people threatening girls’ education is indeed a burka. So what the show’s really doing, it’s argued, is glorifying an instrument of oppression. Because the burka is evil, and so is anything that makes contact with it, it must follow, as day follows night ... Only it doesn’t follow, really.