Documentary About Menstruation Wins Oscar: 'I'm Not Crying Because I'm on My Period'
The producers of a film about menstruation got emotional — understandably — during Sunday's Oscars.
After winning the category for Best Documentary Short at the 2019 Academy Awards for their film Period. End of Sentence., the female producers, including Melissa Berton and Rayka Zehtabchi, took the stage to deliver their acceptance speech.
To celebrate the prestigious honor, Zehtabchi had two hilariously-honest thoughts to share with the audience.
“I'm not crying because I'm on my period or anything,” she began, before stating, “I can't believe a film about menstruation won an Oscar!”
The film, which was created by Oakwood High School students who also founded a nonprofit organization called The Pad Project, aims to fight the stigma of menstruation, starting in a rural village outside of Delhi, India.
For decades, the women there didn't have access to pads, which resulted in health problems and girls missing school or dropping out entirely. But when a sanitary pad machine is installed in the village, the women learned to manufacture and market their own pads. The ladies felt so inspired that they name their brand Fly because they want women “to soar.”
“When we started this project, we really had no idea how far it would come,” Avery Siegel, Period's executive producer and former Oakwood High School student, told PEOPLE.
Siegel and her classmates Ruby Schiff and Claire Sliney's efforts started almost six years ago with simple fundraisers in their Los Angeles community.
“Our first round of fundraising was solely through a bunch of different bake sales and a yoga-thon,” said Siegel, who is now studying communications and media studies at Tulane University. “It was really word-of-mouth. We launched the Kickstarter in October of 2016, and that's how we raised our initial amount of money.”
Then they brought aboard award-winning director Zehtabchi to make multiple trips to India and capture the journey of the women of Hapur.
“Talking about periods and having these women work on the machine makes people comfortable with the discussion, and forces people to learn about what periods are, and about women's health,” Sliney said. “Watching these women become more and more comfortable talking about their periods indicates a larger cultural shift that I'm sure in due time we'll be able to see even more clearly.”
Siegel even noticed a change in the men of the community's attitudes.
“The men started actually wanting to learn about the project, and they even tried to make their own pads,” she recalled. “That is a cultural shift that we never even expected would happen. The fact that that much change happened in six months gives us so much hope for what will happen in the future of this machine and globally in this movement.”
Sunday's win also helps bring awareness to the subject that the women felt was once a “taboo” subject.
“Not only has the film really significantly altered the taboo in India, but also just in talking about the film and publicizing the project, we're dispelling the taboo in our own home communities,” Sliney said of the film that is currently streaming on Netflix.
Added Berton, “It breaks your heart to think that people think that the period is a source of shame. We're excited to be a little part of breaking that taboo.”
The 91st Academy Awards are being presented live from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday.