a woman on a boat with foggy mountains behind her
Courtesy Netflix

In Her Hands starts 19 months before the fall of Kabul in 2021, when the Taliban—whose territory surrounded the capital of Afghanistan—captured the city where 4.6 million people live. 

Tamana Ayazi and Marcel Mettelsiefen’s film centers on Zarifa Ghafari, the female mayor of Maidan Shahr, and her efforts to bring light to women’s rights and keep girls in school. The documentary, produced by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, is a bold portrait of the youngest mayor in Afghanistan. We see her cry in front of citizens, helpless and frustrated, and we watch her mourn her father’s death, as he was shot in front of his house by the Taliban.

It isn’t a conventional biography by any means. We don’t know a lot about Ghafari’s childhood, background, or personal life. We are introduced to her bodyguard, Massoum, who believes in the future Ghafari can offer, and we also see locals who believe in the country’s conservatism. 

Various scenes in the documentary are tense—Massoum driving with a gun on his lap, Ghafari’s scorched hands reading a death threat, she and her mother holding on to one another on a boat—but we don’t see much of what Ghafari actually does. We see her talking to a sea of men in rooms or on the street, but we hardly get more than her impassioned speech. Scenes are short and abrupt; they move from one motion to the next. We are given a baseline understanding of Afghanistan’s struggles, but the viewer is often left with more questions than answers. The film is an introduction to Ghafari’s activism and career, but it shouldn’t be the end of it. 

Once the Taliban take over the city and Kabul falls, the viewer is thrown into the midst of the conflict and expected to hang on. PG-13, 92 min.

Netflix, limited release in theaters