Pratibha Parmar

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Pratibha Parmar is a British filmmaker, who has worked as a director, producer and writer.[1] She is known internationally for her political and often controversial documentary film work as well as her activism within the global feminism and lesbian rights movements. She has collaborated with many well-known artists and activists, and public figures across the world. Parmar specifically uses the camera to benefit women worldwide. Focusing her lens on disenfranchised communities and peoples internationally, her contribution to worldwide humanitarian rights and education has been crucial. Her films are marked by political complexity and visual richness, taking up the themes of women's strength, racial and cultural oppression and the lives of South Asian LGBT people. She is well known for drawing on humour, wit, women's everyday lives and visionary storytelling to articulate the realities and dreams of feminist, LGBT women and South Asian diasporic life.

Her works typically center around the themes of gender, identity, LGBT issues, race, feminism, and creativity.[2] Parmar aims to narrate and depict untold stories and experiences of traditionally marginalized and underrepresented groups such as African-American women in the 1970s, survivors of female genital mutilation, and misrepresented gay communities in Southeast Asia.

In particular, Parmar's award-winning documentary Warrior Marks[3] (1993), made in collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker (author of The Color Purple), located Parmar deep within multiple conversations about globalization and women's responsibilities to other women. Parmar went on to co-publish Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women[4] with Walker.

Parmar has also made music videos for Morcheeba, Tori Amos,[5] Ghostlands and Midge Ure.[6]

In the fall of 2007, Pratibha Parmar was awarded the Visionary Award by the One in Ten Film Festival for her entire body of work and she is a past winner of the San Francisco Frameline Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2016, she was listed as one of BBC's 100 Women.[7]


Early life[edit]

Parmar was born in Nairobi, Kenya. Her family moved to Britain, where she grew up.[8] She received her B.A. from Bradford University and attended Birmingham University for postgraduate studies at the Cultural Studies Centre.[8]

The Parmar family emigrated from British India to East Africa during a major period of Indian emigration; the family eventually moved to London as a part of a mass exodus of Indians living in Africa to Western countries in the 1960's and 70's. Parmar's work has been influenced by her working-class roots and a worldview influenced by her family's status as having immigrated thrice on three different continents. In her work, Parmar examines the intersection of race, class and sex in her work as both a filmmaker and writer.[8]

Pratibha was precocious and showed early talent in scholastic matters and maintained an avid interest in social justice. She attended the University of Bradford, earning a B.A. with honours in Human Purposes and Communications. While at the university, Parmar took leadership positions in student politics. She was Chair of the Anti-Fascist Committee, which organized various actions against local fascist groups including marches, fundraisers and Rock Against Racism concerts. She was also very interested in working with women and spent three months in Calcutta working with Mother Teresa.[9][10] Parmar stayed for a year in India teaching basic literacy skills to children in village projects in Uttar Pradesh (North India) and Kerala (in the South).

After completing her undergraduate degree, Parmar did post-graduate studies at the University of Birmingham's Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. While there, she co-wrote and co-edited the book The Empire Strikes Back – Race and Racism in 1970s Britain[11] (1982). That book, co-authored with Paul Gilroy and Valerie Amos among others, challenged the then-current academic paradigm of race and race relations as problems embedded in communities of colour rather than problems within society at large, specifically the problem of institutionalised racism. The Empire Strikes Back is also one of the first texts authored primarily by Black and Asian writers questioning that theory expressed and (re)enforced in academic literature in the 1970s and '80s.

During the 1980s, Parmar also worked with Sheba Feminist Press[12] as an editor and publisher. Sheba was the only British press to publish writers such as African-American poet Audre Lorde.[13]

After graduation from the university, Parmar worked as a Youth and Community Worker with young South Asian women. It was in this environment she discovered the power of mass media to change and challenge stereotypes of minority people. She then decided to learn the tools of filmmaking. Subsequently, she was asked to work as a researcher/consultant on a pioneering documentary series for the newly formed Channel 4 in Britain profiling Black and Asian communities in the UK.

Early career[edit]

Pratibha Parmar began her filmmaking career working in documentary. Aesthetically, the reworking Parmar offered the film world of the definition of poetry in relationship to cinema marked her signature. Emergence (1986) and Sari Red (1988) both raised awareness about Black and Third World women's artistic sensibility in regard to London city streets.

With Khush (1991), Parmar examined the erotic world of South Asian queers. Khush means ecstatic pleasure in Urdu. For South Asian lesbians and gay men in Britain, North America, and India, the term captures the blissful intricacies of being queer and of colour. Inspiring testimonies bridge geographical differences to locate shared experiences of isolation and exoticisation but also the unremitting joys and solidarity of being khush.

The release of A Place of Rage (1991), a documentary about African-American women's role in the civil rights movement, marked a critical turning point in Parmar's career. The film was named Best Historical Documentary by the National Black Programming Consortium in the U.S. and received broad international critical acclaim.[14] Her other documentary credits include The Righteous Babes and A Brimful of Asia. Drama credits include Sita Gita, Wavelengths and Memsahib Rita.

Reaching a broader audience[edit]

Parmar's debut feature film, Nina's Heavenly Delights, saw its theatrical release in mainstream theatres across the United Kingdom on 2006 and United States in 2007. The film won the Wolfe Award for Best Feature film at the Fresno Film Festival along with Best Feature film at Cineffable (France) and Best International Feature film at the Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. Since then, her interests have diversified within the filmmaking realm and Parmar is currently pursuing universal topics with an eye trending toward a broader audience. Part of her impetus is simply the nature of increased global awareness about and evolving tolerance of, acceptance for and interest in women's and queers rights. However, Parmar's works retain her trademark heightened political consciousness, artistic edge and inventive and inspired storytelling.

Parmar has been a Board member and is currently an active member of Women in Film and Television (UK), the Directors Guild of Great Britain, and a BAFTA voting member. In 2001, she founded Kali Films, a film and television production company creating feature films, documentaries and music videos. The company works with material and subject matter that is entertaining, thought provoking, intelligent and aesthetically stunning.

Parmar's films continue to screen to sold-out shows internationally. Through Kali Films, she is working on several projects including Diversity in Motion, a short documentary showcasing selected children living in the five 2012 Olympic boroughs, and Windows into Our World – Creative Director and Consultant to Di Fie Foe, enabling the production of seven student-led short videos for the Welcoming The World 2012 Olympics Project.

In May 2011, Parmar began shooting a documentary called Beauty in Truth about the life of Alice Walker.[15]


General summaries

Nina’s Heavenly Delights was Parmar's multi-award-winning narrative feature film debut. A Place of Rage (1991) is a documentary film on African-American women and the civil rights movement. In 1993, Pratibha released her most challenging film, Warrior Marks, which documented female genital mutilation.[2] Bhangra Jig (1990) is a vibrant short video about how young Asian people in Scotland celebrate desire and self-pride through dance and music. Double the Trouble, Twice the Fun (1992) examines disability and homosexuality as it affects both women and men. Emergence (1986) analyses common themes of identity, alienation and herstory in the context of the diaspora experience emerge in this powerful tape. Flesh and Paper (1990) is a lyrical exploration of the sense and sensibilities of Indian lesbian poet and writer Suniti Namjoshi. Jodie: An Icon (1996) is a fast-paced, breezy look at the transatlantic phenomenon that has made Hollywood actress Jodie Foster an icon for lesbians. Khush (1991) is a documentary about South Asian lesbians and gay men in Britain, North America, and India. Memory Pictures (1989) is a composed profile of gay Indian photographer Sunil Gupta, and the way his work portrays issues of sexual and racial identity. The Righteous Babes (1998) is a short film that explores the intersection of feminism with popular music, focusing on the role of female recording artists in the 1990s and their influence on modern women. Sari Red (1988) was made in memory of Kalbinder Kaur Hayre,[16] a young Indian woman killed in 1985 in a racist attack in England. Siren Spirits is a feature comprising four short dramas directed by women of colour. Wavelengths is a film that explores the time-honoured quest for love and human intimacy in the polished world of computers and the Internet.



  • Playing Dead (2008)
  • Sita Gita (2000)
  • Wavelengths (1997)
  • Memsahib Rita (1994)


  • Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth (2011)
  • Diversity in Motion (2008)
  • Brimful of Asia (1999)
  • The Righteous Babes (1998)
  • Jodie: An Icon (1996)
  • The Colour of Britain (1994)
  • Warrior Marks (1993)
  • Double the Trouble Twice the Fun (1992)
  • A Place of Rage (1991)
  • Khush (1991)
  • Flesh and Paper (1990)
  • Bhangra Jig (1990)
  • Memory Pictures (1989)
  • Sari Red (1988)
  • Reframing AIDS (1987)
  • Emergence (1986)


  • Doctors – BBC 1 Drama Series (2002), various episodes

Music videos[edit]

  • Tori Amos
  • Morcheeba
  • Ghostlands
  • Midge Ure



  • Pocket Sized Venus in Femmes of Power: Exploding Queer Femininities, Del LaGrace Volcano and Ulrika Dahl. Serpent’s Tail, 2008.
  • Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women. Co-author with Alice Walker. Harcourt Brace in the U.S. and Jonathan Cape in the U.K, November 1993.
  • Queer Looks: An Anthology of Writings about Lesbian and Gay Media. Co-edited with Martha Gever & John Greyson. Routledge, New York & London, October 1993.
  • "Perverse Politics", in Feminist Review, No 34, 1991.
  • The Politics of Articulation in Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. Edited by J. Rutherford. Lawrence & Wishart, 1990.
  • Emergence II in Storms of the Heart. Edited by Kwesi Owusu. Camden Press, 1989.
  • "Other Kinds of Dreams: An interview with June Jordan", in Feminist Review, 1988.
  • "Rage and Desire: Confronting Pornography", in Feminism, Pornography and Censorship. Edited by J. Dickey & C. Cheste. Published by Prism Press, 1987.
  • "Challenging Imperial Feminism with Valerie Amos", in Feminist Review (1984) and reprinted several times in various publications and anthologies including Feminism & Race. Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • "Asian Women – Race, Class and Culture", in The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in Britain in the 1980s. CCCS, University of Birmingham. Hutchinson, 1982.


  • Charting the Journey: Writings by Black and Third World Women. Sheba Feminist Press, 1984.
  • Through the Break: Women and Personal Struggle. Sheba Feminist Press, 1984.
  • "Hateful Contraries: Images of Asian Women in the Media". Ten 8 Magazine, 1984.
  • "Many Voices, One Chant: Black Feminist Perspectives". Feminist Review, 1982.
  • The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in Britain in the 1980s. CCCS, University of Birmingham. Hutchinson, 1982.

Publications about Pratibha Parmar[edit]

  • Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Women Filmmakers of the African and Asian Diaspora. Southern Illinois University Press, 1997.
  • Looking For The Other. Feminism, Film and the Imperial Gaze. Chapter 6: "Can One Know the Other?” The Ambivalence of Post colonialism in Chocolat, Warrior Marks and Mississippi Masala." E. Ann Kaplan. Routledge, 1997.
  • Alpana Sharma Knippling, "Self (En)Gendered in Ideology: Pratibha Parmar's Bhangra Jig and Sari Red", in JPCS: Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture & Society, Volume 1 (No 2), Fall 1996.
  • Film Fatales: Independent Women Directors. Eds. Judith M. Redding & Victoria A. Brownworth. Seal Press, 1997.

Interviews with Pratibha Parmar[edit]

  • The Guardian
  • DIVA Magazine
  • Future Movies
  • The Asian Today
  • Netribution
  • Filmiholic
  • LOLA Press

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pratibha Parmar at IMDb
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Nichols, Peter M. (2008). "Movies: About Warrior Marks". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on 15 March 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  4. ^ "Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women" at Amazon.
  5. ^ "Tori Amos". Tori Amos.
  6. ^ "MIDGE URE - the Official Website".
  7. ^ "BBC 100 Women 2016: Who is on the list?". BBC News. 21 November 2016. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  8. ^ a b c "Pratibha Parmar". Archived from the original on 31 May 2007. Retrieved 13 June 2007.
  9. ^ "Pratibha Parmar" Archived 10 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Sawnet.
  10. ^ "The Nobel Peace Prize 1979".
  11. ^ "Empire Strikes Back – Race and Racism in 1970s Britain" at Amazon.
  12. ^ "Home – Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities". Retrieved 2 June 2020.
  13. ^ Ranjani Saigal, "In Conversation With Pratibha Parmar", Lokvani, 28 May 2007.
  14. ^ "Pratibha Parmar", Women Make Movies.
  15. ^ "Filmmakers", Beauty in Truth.
  16. ^ "Sari Red (1988) - IMDb" – via

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]