Born in Karachi as Sharmeen Obaid, she attended the Karachi Grammar School. She was the first woman in her family to receive a Western education. Sharmeen graduated from Smith College with a bachelor of arts in economics and government and then went to complete two master's degrees from Stanford University in International Policy Studies and Communication.
Obaid's career in documentary filmmaking began when she examined the plight of Afghani refugee children in Pakistan for one of her articles. Their situation was so dire, and their stories so compelling, that Sharmeen decided to return to Pakistan and create a film about them. She petitioned Smith College and New York Times Television production division for the grants that would allow her to accomplish her goals. Intrigued by her story, both organizations gave her the funds as well as production equipment and training.
Obaid began her career with New York Times Television in 2002 where she produced Terror's Children, a film about Afghan refugee children, which won her the Overseas Press Club Award, the American Women and Radio and Television Award, and the South Asian Journalist Association Award. Since then, she has produced and reported on more than twelve films around the world.
“The single act of throwing acid on a woman’s face completely ruins her life. It’s like the living dead, because if you throw acid on a woman’s face, she can seldom go home after that. To me, it’s the most heinous of all crimes against women.”
And while none of the people in Abbottabad, where she filmed, knew what the Oscars were, they knew that this was something big and would give them a voice, “I’ve told women’s stories for a decade now. The film needed to show them to have dignity, of how they are resilient women. I don’t want anyone to watch the film and pity these women. I want them to look at this film and say wow, they give me hope!”
Saving Face chooses not to discuss the topic of rampant acid attacks in Pakistan but how a doctor chooses to give back to his country by helping its people; how women politicians work together to get a bill passed in Parliament. Her stance is, “Should we not talk about these things just because they are negative? Because Pakistan can fix its problems if it so chooses.” The last statement is something we have all noticed time and again, from cricket matches to corruption and now to acid attacks.
“It was difficult to accept that extreme cases of violence against women not only exist in Pakistan but are culturally validated and accepted,” Obaid-Chinoy told India-West in an e-mail last week.
“Initially, I struggled with coming to terms with the reality on the ground, and to accept that I, as a Pakistani woman, had enjoyed liberties and freedoms that were entirely unavailable to survivors of acid violence.”
As a filmmaker, the Academy Awards is not the first time Sharmeen has been nominated for an award while being the only Pakistani in the running. In 2003, she won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists, one of the most prestigious awards in Journalism which no non-American had ever won. When one of the members of the jury called her to talk about her entry, Reinventing the Taliban, she said, “I assume you’re calling because I’m not a US citizen.” But they had actually called to tell her she had won. “I was completely taken in over the phone… I shrieked a lot.”
In 2010, she won an emmy award for her documentary, Pakistan: Children of the Taliban, which explores Taliban recruitment strategies, their effect on the youth and their methods to radicalize the country’s young and often dejected populace.Children of the Taliban premiered FiLums (2011) - the largest film festival in Pakistan held annually at the Lahore University of Management Sciences
“During the course of shooting the film, I realized that the survivors were in fact some of the bravest and most courageous women I had ever met, and it was an honor to be able to spend time with them,” she told India-West.
“Faced with unimaginable circumstances, ‘Saving Face’ documents their journeys as they seek treatment and fight for justice.”