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Applying formalist and feminist approach to criticallyanalyse the animated movie ‘The Breadwinner’


Task: Select an animated film(s)/game(s) and critically analyse its particular aspect(s) of your choice. In order to conduct your analysis, you need to choose one or a combination of a number of theoretical approaches (for example, formalist approach, historical approach, feminist approach and so on) covered in this unit.This is an argumentative essay, thus choose your position on a topic. The essay will have an introductory paragraph, main body (a number of paragraphs), conclusion paragraph, reference listand segmentation of a work analysed.



The animated movie chosen for the discussion is ‘The Breadwinner’ directed by Nora Twomey, which is an adult animated drama from a popular Irish animation studio named Cartoon Saloon and released in the year of 2017 (Almughni et al., 2020). Even though the movie touches upon some of the most controversial social aspects, it has also managed to depict the feminist perspective of women’s lives under an oppressive regime. The concept and plot of the film managed to acquire admiration from around the world, which led to the movie receiving an academy award nomination for ‘Best Animated Feature’ at the 90th Academy Awards (Almughni et al., 2020). The discussion presented below intends to analyse the movie using the feminist theoretical approach and formalist approach, both of which would be important in supporting the core argument of the study and gaining relevant remarks throughout.

The Breadwinner depicts an appreciation towards women fighting for their rights and having the courage to free themselves but at the same time reminds women that they are not free and cannot sustain without the presence of men. While in a man’s life, a woman is treated as an insignificant member but a woman is not allowed to survive without a man’s presence.

The purpose of the discussion presented below is to use both formalist and feminist approach in navigating the effects and meaning of this animated film ‘The Breadwinner’. It is believed that the subject chosen by this film and the decision to animate the story was inclined towards adding strong visual imagery that allowed in understanding the plight of the characters and the changes they want to have to lead a better life.

Main Body

The premise of the animated film takes place in Afghanistan, a country that has been taken over by Taliban and has imposed the Sharia Law for all men and women. According to Kim et al. (2019), the use of animation is incredibly popular because it has the potential to transport individuals to any place or time and make everything believable around them. Similar scenario has been created by ‘The Breadwinner’ because it conveniently transports an individual to the difficult times of Afghanistan and how the existence of an oppressive regime has caused turmoil in the life of the central character named Parvana. The core purpose of this film being made was to shed light on the occurrence of human rights violations in the country and how gender inequality had significantly taken over the entire country, making it increasingly difficult for women to sustain themselves. The Breadwinner conveniently posits the question of ‘What if?’ and questions the logic behind the rules and regulations imposed by the Taliban. For example, if a woman must not remain unchaperoned while going out without a man then, how can those families that does not have any living male member can avail basic necessities. The movie is extremely thought provoking and can easily allows different individuals to appreciate their surroundings more.

One of the major effects that ‘The Breadwinner’ had on majority of its audience is how fear and power exerted by a few people can easily threaten the survival and liberty of all human beings (Sanz, 2022). Meanwhile, it cannot be denied that the animated film is also a thorough study of different political landscapes and determines the impact of tyrannical restrictions of a group on a family. With the story of Parvana, it shows that any oppressive regime always starts with restricting the lives of women. Instead of addressing ‘The Breadwinner’ as a film about the potential livelihood of women in a country run by religious extremists, critics have rather categorised this movie as a form of political film that has a defined aesthetic (Mohammadi, 2020). However, it is more appropriate to address the film that has a tendency to depict the consequences of war but it cannot be ignored that the movie with its happy ending and the struggles endured, eventually depicts it as a slice of life film to some extent because it clearly assures that Parvana managed to escape with her family from Afghanistan. The consequences of war led to a family leave their war torn home to find solace and better opportunity at life in an entirely different country.

With the application of the formalist approach, the stance of oppression and bereavement have been explored but at the same time, it also depicts the importance of hope. While Parvana is the central character of the film, there are certain supporting characters who are contributing in their own way to the household without the presence of a man and adding viability to the story. Parvana decided to dress up as a boy to seek employment and earn money for the household,Parvana’s friend Shauzia does the same and is responsible for planting the idea of dressing up as a man to find freedom within the city and to sustain their livelihood. Both friends also imagine and wonder that how free they would have been if they had been born a buy and unknowingly seem to curse themselves for being a girl. However, both these girls are incrementally hopeful that someday they would get out of this place and find solace in a different country. Shauzia dreams of going to the beach and that keeps her motivated enough to work hard.


Figure 1: The Scene of Hope Between Parvana and Shauzia
(Source: From the Movie)

The scene depicted in figure 1, it was shown how hopeful both of the girls are despite their current condition and how they are constantly willing to work hard to gain more possibilities and adherence to a freedom induced life. In this scene, both girls have made it clear about having different dreams but at the same time they have a point of commonality that they want to be free from oppression and lead their lives like any other normal woman residing in different countries. This is the reason why they keep on mentioning cities that would allow them to live freely without any fear. According to Bogaert (2022), Taliban restricted education, sports, employment opportunities and even going out in the city for the women making it difficult for them to even avail fundamental rights. They were not even allowed to buy food items from grocery stores without being accompanied by a man, indicating that life in Afghanistan was more or less a prison for them. While Shauzia lives in an abusive household, she wishes to earn enough money to flee the country and Parvana despite having a loving household only has the intention of freeing her dad and pursue a life that would benefit her.

Meanwhile, with the consideration of feminist approach, it has been found that Afghanis were stereotyped in terms of the meals they had and the way they spoke about the outfits of women. Also, it leads to understanding how Taliban deeply favours the patriarchal culture where the man continues to be the sole decision-maker of the household despite having more females in number and that women should always be covered to avoid temptation from men. It has been effectively contradicted by Marcotte et al. (2021), in terms of depicting that the more women keep their body parts covered, the more it invokes curiosity among men about how each of them looks like and it can further contribute in increasing the temptation among men. However, it cannot be ignored that the movie also stereotyped women’s appearance to some extent by depicting extensive emotional attachment to hair, often considered to be one of the significant bodily features of women. The scene where Parvana has to cut off her hair is an important scene and depicts the struggle and lengths, they have to go to lead a good life but at the same time, it also showcased that women are more naturally obsessed over their hair.


Figure 2: The Hair Cutting Scene of Parvana
(Source: From the Movie)

The figure provided above is a representative of the situation witnessed by Parvana where she was forced to cut her hair at her own will because she had no other option but to find a suitable situation that would allow her to feed her family. As witnessed in figure 2, Soraya her elder sister helps her to cut her hair so that she can go out and avail all the key necessities of the household. With the consideration of feminist approach, this scene holds importance because of its two-fold commentary with the first one being stereotyping women as being obsessed with beauty and hair or feeling remorse about losing their hair. Secondly, it also presents another perspective of survival of the fittest concept where to survive in a patriarchal society, a woman has to disguise herself as man to get what they want and then continue living their life as much as possible. According to Gandouz (2018), women being obsessed with their hair has been constantly depicted since the Victorian era and has been repeatedly portrayed in several books and paintings with animation being no different. There were many animated studios back in 1930s and 1940s that depicted mostly damsel in distress or domesticated behaviour of women in society and conveyed that this is what they are actually meant to do.

Also, with the consideration of feminist approach the movie sheds light on the occurrence of gendered violence and how increasingly common it is in a patriarchal society. In the movie, it has been depicted that men find it easier to hit women and constantly threaten them to do so to have their own way, and with Taliban imposing restrictions on women only makes it even more difficult for them to fight back because their rights have already been ignored. According to van Dongen and Farrell-Molloy (2022), in 2021 when Taliban took over Afghanistan again, the first thing it did was impose restrictions on women and make it difficult for them to pursue educational opportunities or any other activities. The scene is extremely emotional for both the characters and the viewers but none feel remorse because the eventual purpose here is to be able to feed themselves and verge out of poverty. However, it has also been found that ‘The Breadwinner’ film is largely considered to be a propaganda film and leads to the formation of several cultural assumptions. Since the producers are English and American, it forms a stereotypical perception of Middle-Eastern women but in reality, the story is based on lives of some real Afghan women who had been interviewed in refugee camps and gave details of the challenges they faced under the Taliban regime.


The discussion presented focused effectively on the situation of the characters presented in the movie ‘The Breadwinner’. The movie not only portrayed a different kind of visuals or animation but was also an important social commentary on the kind of lives that are led by women currently. While the application of formalist approach for analysing the film, led to the identification of its effects and meaning, the use of feminist approach enabled in identifying the stereotypes that were portrayed throughout the movie and needed to be curbed significantly. The Taliban made it extensively difficult for women to continue their lives like any other normal individual, and ‘The Breadwinner’ was an attempt to conveniently open the eyes of the people towards understanding the plight of women residing in that particular country. While some saved themselves by fleeing the country, there were many who were unable to do anything and had to stay back.

Reference List

Almughni, O., Edward, E. and Fauzi, M., 2020. Breadwinner’s Propaganda within the English Foreign Movie’s Depiction of Middle-East. Elsya: Journal of English Language Studies, 2(2), pp.67-71.

Bogaert, H., 2022. History Repeating Itself: The Resurgence of the Taliban and the Abandonment of Afghan Women. Immigration and Human Rights Law Review, 4(1), p.3.

Gandouz, O., 2018. African-American girls are better taught to reach stars": Subverting Gender and Racial Stereotypes in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun. Brolly, 1(2).

Kim, B.K., Choi, J. and Wakslak, C.J., 2019. The image realism effect: the effect of unrealistic product images in advertising. Journal of Advertising, 48(3), pp.251-270.

Marcotte, A.S., Gesselman, A.N., Fisher, H.E. and Garcia, J.R., 2021. Women’s and men’s reactions to receiving unsolicited genital images from men. The Journal of Sex Research, 58(4), pp.512-521.

Mohammadi, A., 2020. Aesthetics of the presence of women in Afghan cinema. AVANCA| CINEMA, pp.330-336.

Sanz, M.D., 2022. Films, world politics and the International Relations classroom: Learning to do a postcolonial analysis of" The Breadwinner". Revistaespañola de cienciapolítica, (60), pp.85-113.

van Dongen, T. and Farrell-Molloy, J., 2022. One Year of Taliban Rule in Afghanistan: A Predictable Disaster.

Segmentation of a Work Analysed


Figure: Parvana Consoled by her sister after getting beaten
(Source: From the Movie)

The significance of this scene is that is shows that the women in the house stand by in support of each other and despite being fully covered and obliging by the rules, their behaviour is heavily watched to the point of being considered as morally corrupt. At that moment, the only possible thing for them to do is to shed tears.


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