Framing the Subaltern: Humanitarian Violence in Liz Mermin’s documentary The Beauty Academy of Kabul


  • Deepthi Siriwardena University of Florida



humanitarianism, third world women, documentary, colonialism, subaltern, Afghanistan


This paper examines how the encounter between the “First World American women” and “Third world Afghan women” is framed to inadvertently enact a form of representational violence in Liz Mermin’s documentary film, The Beauty Academy of Kabul. The paper shows that despite its ostensibly progressive stance of giving space to Afghan women’s voice, the film, serves to validate the new form the colonial self has taken in the globalized world - the humanitarian identity - and reaffirms the American imperial agenda. Employing Judith Butler’s insights in Frames of War, where she points out how the frame delimits the domain of representability and the confines of “reality” itself, the analysis explores how Mermin’s documentary frames the Afghan women as the first world audience is meant to recognize, grieve and intervene for.


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How to Cite

Siriwardena, D. (2023). Framing the Subaltern: Humanitarian Violence in Liz Mermin’s documentary The Beauty Academy of Kabul. CINEJ Cinema Journal, 11(2), 200–224.