Film: Afghan Star

What happened after an Afghan TV network launched an <span style="font-style:normal;">American Idol</span>-style contest.

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In 2001, after Taliban-era bans on secular entertainment were lifted, an Afghan TV network launched an American Idol-style singing contest. Through an engrossing montage of auditions and intimate portraits, this film captures the Afghan Star craze that swept the nation and brought music to the pop culture-starved masses.

Jeers from would-be Simon Cowells are the least of the contestants’ worries: After letting her head scarf slip, one performer receives death threats. Another claims that the Taliban is texting in votes for her—but later has to seek government protection. Since this film was made, the show’s producers have launched a more conservative follow-up, Koran Star, where contestants recite religious verse.

In the end, this film is less about the contestants than their fans—the shepherd who says his sheep get stomachaches when his favorite contestant is on; the rich man who wants 10,000 SIM cards to text in votes—and how a TV show that just ended its fourth season has united a country.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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