When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996, among their many edicts was banning popular music, considering it a corrupting and sacrilegious influence. Though Taliban was swept from power in 2001, Islamic militants still regard music as sinful and have targeted Afghan musicians in assassination plots. Into this repressive culture comes a television show that has taken Afghanistan by storm -- Afghan Star, a talent search modeled after American Idol in which aspiring singers perform for the viewing audience and either advance in the ranks or are dropped from the competition based on votes cast by telephone. In a nation where both free democracy and pop music are both novel and risky concepts, Afghan Star's popularity is a bona-fide phenomenon, and filmmaker Havana Marking explores both the competition and its effect on Afghan society in the documentary Afghan Star. Marking examines the show's audience -- it's estimated that a third of the nation watches it regularly -- as well as several top contestants, including would-be teen-pop sensation Rafi: Hammeed, a singer who is seen as a champion and role model by fellow members of the Hazara people; Lima, who was born and raised in a community of Islamic fundamentalists and must hide her identity for the safety of her family; and Setara, an attractive woman who defies convention by wearing American-style clothes and makeup, moving to the music on stage, and even abandoning her head scarf during a performance, making her a hero to youngsters and a pariah to their parents (as well as Islamic conservatives). Afghan Star was an official selection at the 2008 Sheffield International Documentary Festival.
~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide