A Spotlight on ‘Honor Killing’

When she learned last October that she had won an international Emmy award, first-time director Deeyah Khan, who had worn black to the New York ceremonies, wept. “The only thing I remember,” she says, “is feeling so sad.” She was thankful for the award, but, given her film’s subject matter, celebration seemed wrong.

“Banaz: A Love Story,” which won the Best International Current Affairs Film Emmy, covers the case of Banaz Mahmod, a British-Kurdish woman tortured and murdered in London in 2006. Mahmod’s father, uncle and others plotted to carry out the so-called honor killing, believing she had shamed the family by leaving her arranged marriage to an abusive husband and falling in love with another man.

For Ms. Khan, 36, the subject was personal. “The reason I am here and Banaz is not,” she says, “has nothing to do with us and everything to do with our fathers. My father chose me. Her father chose the community.” Born in Norway to immigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan, Ms. Khan rose to fame as a child star singing Indian classical music. Some extremist Muslims were especially offended when she branched into pop music as a teenager. She was spat on and targeted with death threats. Attackers disrupted her performances, dousing her with pepper spray. At 17, she fled Oslo for London and continued recording and performing, but the threats persisted. Eventually, Ms. Khan reinvented herself as a human-rights activist.

Ms. Khan set up a digital clearinghouse and an online memorial for victims of “honor killings,” estimated by the United Nations to number 5,000 a year. Honor killing occurs across continents and cultures, and she conceived her film about Mahmod as a modest educational tool to help police and women’s groups.

Just 20 when she died, Mahmod had approached police several times to warn that her life was in danger and named those she feared most. Her father, uncle and three others were convicted and jailed for her murder.

The film has played recently at the United Nations, the House of Lords and Sweden’s Parliament. Some police in the U.K. have begun using it as a training aid, fulfilling Ms. Khan’s original filmmaking goal. She says about Banaz’s story, “All the mistakes are glaring at us and should never, ever be repeated again.”

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