Khalida Popal, the subject of Danish director Nina Holmgren’s latest film, is an Afghan football player fighting discrimination and promoting women’s rights in the embattled country through the world’s most popular game—one whose narratives are typically dominated by its male stars. This comes in the same week as Norwegian footballer Ada Hegerberg won the first women’s Ballon d’Or—an annual award celebrating excellence in football—in a ceremony that was raised its own issues about the treatment of women in the sport. For Holmgren, whose film tackles these issues head on, “Khalida Popal is a modern sports icon.”
Telling the story of two generations who stood together in the aftermath of the Taliban regime and the ensuing war, the mother and daughter stood together as Khalida went on the establish the first women’s national football team in Afghanistan. In 2011 she had to flee from her home country due to death threats, and now lives in Denmark. Popal continues her fight for women’s rights, and has established the non-profit organisation GirlPower that raises awareness of gender inequality and the empowerment of women through sports—especially for minority groups and refugees.
“The film shows how powerful a medium sports can be,” explains Holmgren. “But it also shows the incredible power of an amazing woman.”