The Breadwinner: Using Facing History to Extend the Film Discussions

Posted by Mary Hendra on October 30, 2017

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis has inspired a beautifully-animated film soon-to-be released to theaters. Both highlight a role in the world today not often discussed: children of war who must take on the role of provider or "breadwinner" for themselves and/or their family. This role is further complicated in the setting of Afghanistan, where tightly-controlled gender expectations limit what women or girls can do.

This book has been taught in Facing History classrooms, exploring themes such as identity, education, and upstanding. The film, and the accompanying study guide, may give even more young people access to this story of a young girl who steps into the role of provider while standing up to injustice.

While Facing History does not have resources specific to Afghanistan or The Breadwinner, we do have a number of pieces which may prove complementary for teachers exploring these themes.

Understanding another culture can start with understanding individuals and individual stories, as we do when we read a book or watch a film like The Breadwinner, but it doesn't stop there. A Rainbow Creation reminds us that when we really get to know an individual, we need to give them space to break our previously-defined categories. And, The Danger of a Single Story reminds us to go even further than a single narrative to allow space for the diversity of experiences and individuals in every society.

What does it mean, and what does it take to become an "upstander"? Through all of Facing History's case studies, we explore this question by looking at individuals historically and today who chose, like Parvana, to stand up to injustice in small and big ways. In our newly revised edition on the Holocaust and Human Behavior, the chapter on "Choosing to Participate" begins with questions which could frame discussion about the film as well:

  • What must individuals do and value in order to bring about a more humane, just, and compassionate world and a more democratic society?
  • How do we determine the most effective way to make a difference in our neighborhoods, our nations, and the world? Which strategies are best for bringing about the changes we want to see?


Two readings from this chapter might help students think about the complexity of taking action while respecting and learning from different cultures: Seeking a Strategy that Works and Believing in Others. Closer to home, students might connect to this story of standing up to injustice, inspired simply by observing what was happening at their own school: Bullying at School.

Facing History also has some longer resources which might pair well with The Breadwinner.

The Aftermath Project: War is Only Half the Story is a photojournalistic exploration of how individuals and communities reckon with mass violence, its legacies and the challenges of rebuilding communities after conflict. It includes photography of Guatemala, Sierra Leone, the United States, Bosnia, and the Armenian genocide.

What Do We Do with a Variation? brings scholarly and personal perspectives to light from the national debate in France over the wearing of veils by Islamic girls in schools. This allows students to consider religion and secularism in public schools, immigration and assimilation, rapid social change and cherished cultural traditions. This is part of the Civic Dilemmas collection.

Stitching Truth: Women's Protest Art in Pinochet's Chile is the story of the sisters, wives, and mothers who made up the women's protest movement in Chile during Pinochet's dictatorship (1973-1990). It is an incredible story of courage and resistance. Facing what would seem like insurmountable odds, the women challenged silence and terror imposed by Pinochet, his military, and his secret police.

And Facing History's Teacher Guide for To Kill a Mockingbird helps educators explore the story of another young character, Scout, who defies gender norms and questions injustice.


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