Fact Check

Did 'Star Wars' Director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy Say, 'I Enjoy Making Men Uncomfortable'?

Past remarks made by the Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker became the subject of online postings and articles in early January 2024. Here's the full story.

Published Jan 5, 2024

Daisy Ridley and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy attend Star Wars Celebration 2023 in London at ExCel on April 07, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Disney) (Jeff Spicer/Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Disney)
Daisy Ridley and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy attend Star Wars Celebration 2023 in London at ExCel on April 07, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Disney)
Claim:
Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who in 2023 was announced as the first female director of a new "Star Wars" feature film, once said, "I enjoy making men uncomfortable."
Context

Obaid-Chinoy was filmed making this remark in 2015 during a panel discussion at the Women in the World summit. A review of the full video showed that she was talking more specifically about men who expressed discomfort over her documentation of male perpetrators of abuse in Pakistan.

On Jan. 3, 2024, TikTok user Isabel Brown posted a reaction video to a verbal exchange between media personality Jon Stewart and two-time Oscar-winning, seven-time Emmy Award-winning Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker and journalist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Obaid-Chinoy had been announced as the first female director of a feature film in the "Star Wars" franchise at Star Wars Celebration Europe 2023 in London.

In the TikTok video, Stewart is shown asking, "What is the balance of activating a force for change but also trying to permeate that patriarchy, that power structure?"

In response, Obaid-Chinoy is shown in the video saying, "I like to make men uncomfortable. I enjoy making men uncomfortable. It is important to be able to look into the eyes of a man and say, I am here, and recognize that, and recognize that I am working to bring something that makes you uncomfortable, and it should make you uncomfortable because you need to change your attitude."

Brown commented in response, "You want to know the problem with all of these new era 'Star Wars' female directors? It fails to account for the fact that you already had strong female characters everywhere in 'Star Wars,' and men and women alike loved them."

Within 48 hours, the video had been viewed more than 2 million times. On Jan. 3, we reached out to Brown via a contact form on her website to ask about the video. We had not received a response by the morning of Jan. 5. Brown since pinned the video to the top of her TikTok page, displaying it prominently to any users who visit her profile.

'They're Ruining 'Star Wars' Again'

Brown's video was captioned "They're ruining 'Star Wars' again," an apparent reference to some fans' dissatisfaction with the way the franchise had been handled since Lucasfilm Ltd., which holds all of the rights to "Star Wars," was sold to Disney in 2012. Her criticism appeared to be based on the presumption that the director's comment about "making men uncomfortable" would be relevant to Obaid-Chinoy's plans for a new "Star Wars" film.

However, the TikTok video omitted crucial context, as did articles from Newsweek (archived), The Post Millennial (archived) and other posts and stories that took notice of Obaid-Chinoy's remark. The clip in question was extracted from a nearly 42-minute YouTube video of a 2015 panel presentation in which Obaid-Chinoy, Meryl Streep and Ava DuVernay discussed past and present periods of the marginalization of women (and in some cases men) with moderator Jon Stewart.

Just minutes before Stewart asked the question that prompted Obaid-Chinoy's remark, a clip was shown to the panel audience from the fourth episode of the 2012 TV series "Ho Yaqeen," which was produced by Obaid-Chinoy's production company, SOC Films.

The episode concentrated on the mistreatment of brick kiln workers in Pakistan's Punjab province, some of whom had been whipped, raped and left disabled after being beaten with steel rods. The clip is introduced at the 7:31 mark in the YouTube video:

In the "Ho Yaqeen" excerpt, a woman named Syeda Ghulam Fatima – a human and labor rights activist – questions men about why they whipped one of the workers. Fatima also makes reference to the fact that the workers are treated like slaves.

After viewing the clip, Streep and DuVernay talked about the physical abuse and marginalization undergone by suffragettes in early 20th century Britain and civil rights activists in 1960s Alabama – subjects that were depicted in their films, respectively 2015's "Suffragette" and 2014's "Selma."

At the 16:36 mark in the full YouTube video, Stewart steers the discussion about physical abuse and marginalization toward the perpetrators of the abuse, posing the following questions to Obaid-Chinoy. Bear in mind that only the words bolded below appeared in Brown's selectively edited TikTok video:

JON STEWART (to Obaid-Chinoy): It brings us to an interesting point when we talk about... so now we're jumping ahead to, this is happening now. And so, you are watching the lessons of, and it's, it's a dramatization of the lessons of it. As an activist and an artist, do you make that calculation: Who is my target? You talked a little bit about, I want women to watch this. And I want them to feel empowered. And I want my daughter to have heroes. I couldn't help but notice a thread through each of these that the men... were assholes.

(laughing)

STEWART: And I'm wondering, as one of them, what is the balance of activating a force for change but also trying to permeate that patriarchy. That power structure. And is that a part of the calculation of your art as well? And what's been the reaction to that?

SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: Oh, absolutely. I like to make men uncomfortable. I enjoy making men uncomfortable.

(laughing)

OBAID-CHINOY: (smiling) Not you. Just, just, not you.

AVA DUVERNAY (smiling): Not you. Not you.

STEWART (smirking): Point taken. Point taken.

OBAID-CHINOY: But, you know, it is important to be able to look into the eyes of a man and say, I am here, and recognize that, and recognize that I am working to bring something that makes you uncomfortable, and it should make you uncomfortable because you need to change your attitude. And it's only when you're uncomfortable, when you're shifty, when you have to have difficult conversations, that you will perhaps look at yourself in the mirror and not like the reflection, and then say, maybe there is something wrong with the way I think. Or maybe, there is something wrong with the way I am addressing this issue.

Context: She Was Talking About Men Discomfited by Her Documentaries' Focus on Male Abusers

Obaid-Chinoy continued as follows, highlighting examples of Pakistani men made uncomfortable by the content of her documentaries:

So, I'll tell you, last year, I began working on a television show that brought stories like this in Pakistan, and men were uncomfortable with some of the issues that we were talking about. Extremely uncomfortable. But they started having those difficult conversations. And I think that, if more men and women started doing that, looking in the eyes of people and saying, well, this is the reality. Accept it. I come from a country which sometimes thinks that I'm a traitor, because I talk about issues that shouldn't be talked about, that these are the issues that should be swept under the carpet. So, you will see a lot of rants about me on social media, and that is part and parcel of who I am. And sometimes, that used to bother me. But one day, I realized that it should be my strength, not my weakness. And the reason it should be my strength is, because obviously I am making someone very uncomfortable. And it's only when you make someone uncomfortable that they're forced to tweet about you. You know? So, I think that that's important. And I now put all the naysayers to one side, because I know I have a mission. And I know what I want to do, and those voices, just, their volume needs to be toned down.

New Year's Eve Interview with Obaid-Chinoy

Apparently, Obaid-Chinoy's remarks from 2015 received attention in early January 2024 because she had been interviewed by CNN for the channel's New Year's Eve coverage that aired on Dec. 31, 2023.

Speaking about directing "Star Wars," Obaid-Chinoy said, "You know, I'm very thrilled about the project because I think what we are about to create is something very special. And, we're in 2024, and I think it's about time that we had a woman come forward to shape the story in 'a galaxy far, far away.'"

While some episodes of "Star Wars" shows produced for Disney+ have been directed by women, every "Star Wars" feature film until now has been directed by a man.

'Heroes' and the Importance of 'Male Champions'

When Obaid-Chinoy was announced as the director of the future film in April 2023, she posted the following thoughts on Instagram:

I have always been attracted to the heroes journey and the world definitely needs more heroes! - the blueprints of the heroes we see on screen are rooted in reality - I’ve spent my life meeting real life heroes, who have overcome the most oppressive empires and battled impossible odds and that to me is the heart of Star Wars...which is why I was attracted to the promise of a new Jedi Order …And why I'm particularly excited about being immersed inside a Jedi Academy with a powerful Jedi Master...

During the Dec. 31 CNN interview, Obaid-Chinoy was asked about her mention of "the heroes' journey." She said she was particularly inspired by a woman who runs a school for young women who had "stood up to loud voices that clamored during the attack in Pakistan on schools a few years ago." She added that the woman, who is a teacher, has a husband who is "a partner and a champion," and that, "it's so important to have male champions in your life who sort of help you when there are difficult times." This remark about the importance of "male champions" was absent from the TikTok video and the articles from Newsweek and The Post Millennial.

As of January 2024, with a rumored release date of May 2026, further details for Obaid-Chinoy's upcoming "Star Wars" film were not yet available. The proposed script and themes were not public knowledge.

Sources

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Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.