Origins and patterns in the discourse of new Arab cinema
AS THE WEST GRAPPLES TO COME to grips with Arab and Muslim cultures in a number of ways, the study of Arab cinema stands as an effective tool for understanding and assessing issues of great impact on one of the world’s most intense areas of political and ideological apprehensions. Today there is increased interest in films originating in the Arab world. In English speaking countries, films from Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia for example are making wider and more frequent rounds than ever before in local film festivals and repertoire theaters. This is matched by newly found acknowledgement of various Arab films in English language film scholarship. (1) Perhaps for the first time in the history of North American cultural scholarship this growth of interest has the potential of initiating a much needed effort to fill the existing gap in the academic study of Arab cinema.
New Arab Cinema is an emerging movement, which denotes the protracted development of an indigenous film practice; it informs and is informed by complex cultural continuities, interruptions and transformations. This movement inherits in various ways aspects of the rich legacy of Egyptian Arab cinema, which, despite its recent difficulties continues to be among the most popular indigenous cinemas in the world today. Furthermore, New Arab Cinema explores preoccupations that are of major relevance to different Muslim and non-Muslim post-colonial societies and cultural practices.
While New Arab Cinema is mainly informed by current social, political and cultural developments that have taken place over the last two decades in the “Middle East,” it is equally augmented by persistent ideological and intellectual anxieties that have dominated the Arab world since the early 1800s.
This article maps out key thematic and stylistic elements that characterize New Arab Cinema’s discourse and explores the historical contexts within which they have been emerging. Naturally, the bibliographic nature of this endeavor calls for temporal and regional breadth, but, as a result, it also risks leading to exclusions and makes it difficult to engage each film or theme in detail. Nevertheless, allowing for such breadth is unavoidable for appreciating the coherency and significance of a general body of film which was initially sporadic in its focus yet has recently become identifiable as part of a dynamic movement within Arab cinema. Equally as important and given the near absent familiarity of many non-Arab readers with Arab cinema in general–let alone with specific time-frames of its development–an overview of the subject facilitates further reading and research on this complex area of investigation. I have avoided extremely specialized Film Studies terminology and methods of analysis and have chosen an approach, which would be useful and accessible for both film and cultural studies scholars as well as social sciences, political and humanities researchers.
As I refer to films from various Arab countries (concentrating mainly on fiction feature films but without totally excluding relevant feature documentaries) I will illustrate how New Arab Cinema draws connections between, on the one hand, the anti-colonial struggle for national self-determination, and on the other, the struggle for cultural and social renewal. I will also draw attention to the interaction of films with major events that have afflicted various Arab regions over the last twenty years and their roots in earlier phases of contemporary Arab history.
In the first section of the article I provide a general historical framework for the study of New Arab Cinema. This section contextualizes the emergence of this cinema as part of a modernist continuum within the struggle for Arab national self-determination. However, I begin with a brief overview of the themes associated with the notion of modernity as approached by Arab intellectuals as far back as the mid to late 1800s during what is referred to as the period of Arab Renaissance (an-Nahda). I also lay out the general context within which New Arab Cinema incorporates various modernist themes and stylistic strategies and how they, on the one hand, complement propositions initiated during an-Nahda period, while on the other, provide a basis for contemporary rejuvenation of the struggle for national self-determination.
The remaining sections deal separately with these various themes and strategies and all, except for the last, focus on how films tackle the rise of populist religious fundamentalism, issues of anti-colonialism and the Palestine question, the notion of heterogeneity and national identity, and gender and sexual liberation. Finally, the last section (before the conclusion) demonstrates how the New Arab Cinema increasingly articulates modernist plot structures and texts; it explores this cinema’s employment of self-reflexive strategies in the construction of cinematic narratives.
A GENERAL FRAMEWORK FOR DISCUSSING NEW ARAB CINEMA
Various ideological and conceptual elements that inform the discourse of New Arab Cinema find their roots in the 19th century movement known as an-Nahda (“the Renaissance”). This movement epitomizes the early phases of anti-colonial struggles for national self-determination and unity when much of the Arab world, particularly east of the Mediterranean, was still under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Between 1831 and 1840 Egyptian ruler Mohammad Ali and his son Ibrahim made the first attempt to create a larger united Arab state in modern history, which, in addition to Egypt, included greater Syria (modern Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan). That project was eventually crushed after a joint political and military campaign was initiated by the Ottoman Empire in alliance with Imperial Britain and the tacit approval of other European colonial powers at the time. But despite its failure, Mohammad Ali’s attempt enhanced the intellectual and political maturation of the struggle for Arab unity, independence and modernization.
The subsequent emergence of an-Nahda movement specifically reflected an appreciation of the linkages between anti-colonial resistance, and the struggles against social and political backwardness and injustice, religious sectarianism and dogmatic interpretation of religion. As it advocated Arab emancipation and unity, economic and political modernization and intellectual rationalism this movement aspired for transformations that involved a “cross-fertilization” and integration of Muslim and Arab heritage with the humanist traditions of European Renaissance, the ideals of the French Revolution and 19th century scientific and industrial revolution. It also sought to create a more inclusive social contract that involved wider participation in public life by women and by religious and ethnic minorities in Arab society.
Within its own historical and cultural parameters, the Arab an-Nahda articulated paradoxical dispositions of a project, which was not dissimilar in its outlook to how “modernist” renewal has been historically expressed say within the Latin American context. That is, as “neither a break from the past nor a new way of describing and categorizing the present; [but] instead [as a re-articulation of] the process whereby historical and cultural formation mediate and condition contemporaneity” to quote Zuzana Pick. (2) However, Arab modernity and renewal more specifically emphasized the following: First, the dynamic recovery and preservation of Arab and Muslim history, literature and language. Second, the development of classical Arabic language and utility while making it more accessible to and informed by the realities of contemporary life, arts, literature and sciences. Third, seeking renewal and continuity in the process of developing literature and the arts by deepening their social relevance and stressing their connection with the wider heritage of humanity. (3) Modernity, as a specifically Arab frame of reference, equally finds its origins within a paradigm whereby Arab intellectuals (particularly from mid to late 19th and early 20th centuries) pursued an anti-colonial project for progressive political, social, economic and cultural renewal.
Today, there is a deep feeling among many Arabs that their struggle for national liberation remains an unfinished project. The persistent denial of the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people, launching of two major American military interventions over a period of less than fifteen years, positioning of hundreds of thousands of foreign troops on Arab soil, and American threats against Syria, all add to the general sense that national economic resources remain essentially under the control of neo-colonial powers and all contribute to a political malaise that dominates much of the Arab world today. Another backdrop is the rise of influence of fundamentalist groups and various forms of religious dogmatism. Many Arab intellectuals feel that this wave has hindered the process of democratization and social modernization in the area, and inadvertently contributed to the state of stagnation that has been afflicting the struggle for national self-determination and unity. All these issues have been integral to re-shaping Arab cultural discourse in literature, poetry, visual arts, music, theater and film over the last fifteen years. The general state of stagnation afflicting the Arab national liberation movement seems to have enhanced the emergence of vigorous self-critical approaches in dealing with and analyzing social, political and cultural realities in the region. In hindsight, this interest in critical and uncompromising evaluation of mistakes, roles and ideological pre-conceptions has reinvigorated Arab cultural discourse with a new vivacity that, in many ways, echoes what was taking place at the early stages of the development of an-Nahda movement in the 19th century.
For New Arab Cinema, anxieties associated with the stagnation in the process of national liberation and self-determination compounded with concerns over the wave of religious fundamentalism are increasingly fashioned via a “modernist” symbiosis that depicts a revamped national identity struggling to affirm its heterogeneity and find a new role for itself in the continuing fight for national liberation. The following sections demonstrate various aspects of this Cinema’s articulation of key themes within Arab political and cultural discourse over the last fifteen years.
THE RISE OF RELIGIOUS DOGMATISM AND THE ARAB NATIONAL LIBERATION MOVEMENT
Many Arab intellectuals conceive of today’s rise in religious and ethnic sectarianism, and by extension religious fundamentalism, as phenomena with deep roots in colonial policies of “divide and rule,” which in the region date back to the early and mid 19th century. In this context, today’s struggle to affirm the role of civil society and to advocate modernization and secularism is variously perceived as integral to the struggle for national self-determination. (4)
An important component of 19th century an-Nahda’s outlook on social and cultural renewal was largely associated with a new stance on religion and philosophy. Prominent religious intellectuals of the period such as Al-Afghani, Mohammad Abdo and Abdel-Rahman Al-Kawakibi stressed the need to overcome divisive barriers between Islam and philosophy that were popularized after the backlash against materialist philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes) in the 12th century. An-Nahda’s intellectuals urged breaking with dogmatic interpretation of the Qur’an and advocated openness in its elucidation. They also sought to modernize the process of inferring the religious text in a way which-as Ibn Rushd proposed over seven centuries earlier–, respected the primacy of reason, fought intellectual repression and religious mysticism, and by extension promoted philosophical rationalism as well as scientific modernization and social progress. (5)
The development of Islamic fundamentalism in the Arab world in the early and mid 20th century ran parallel to attempts to obstruct the establishment of a modernist united secular state in the Arab world. The fundamentalist project itself was seen by many Arab nationalists as an offshoot to the effort by colonial and neo-colonial forces to counterbalance the emergence of movements that promoted Arab unity and self-determination. (6)
By the early and mid 1990s Egyptian intellectuals such as Nasr Abou Zeid (persecuted for his “blasphemous” interpretation of the Qur’an), Nawal Saadawi (a feminist who targeted the issue of female circumcision) and Noble laureate Naguib Mahfouz were becoming clearly incompatible with the fundamentalist agenda of promoting “spiritual salvation” as a substitute for economic and social justice. However, the witch-hunt against writers and artists was not confined to Egypt.
From Morocco and Algeria to Jordan and Yemen to the Gulf states, Arab intellectuals were assailed and hunted by religious zealots for “disseminating blasphemy.” The Yemeni writer Abd al-Karim Al-Razihi was forced to seek asylum in Holland; legal charges were launched against the Kuwaiti women writers Layla al-Uthman and Afaf Shu’aib and against Jordanian poet Musa Hawamidah. In Algeria, Wasinin al-A’rag’s novel, The Hostess, was banned for impiety, and several Rai musicians were assassinated and targeted as advocates of sexual impropriety and godless communism. Back in the Arab east, Lebanese popular musician Marcel Khalifeh was being charged with blasphemy for a song which he adapted from a piece by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darweesh.
The wave of Islamic fundamentalism had direct effect on intellectual and cultural life in the film production center of the Arab world, Egypt. In one instance, Egypt’s most acclaimed filmmaker Youssef Chahine was taken to court over his 1994 film Al Mouhager (The Exiled). A lawyer charged that the film represented on screen the prophet Joseph and that according to Islam and to Al-Azhar’s religious rulings it is forbidden to show prophets. The lawyer wanted the court to pull out the film from Egyptian movie theaters and to stop its distribution outside the country. The court battle lasted over six months and the film was eventually forced out of movie theaters, but not before becoming the highest box office grossing Chahine film to date.
However, as fundamentalist influence in the region continued to gather momentum, Arab intellectuals more frequently and urgently began to voice opposition to the fundamentalist agenda. For their part, many Arab filmmakers were becoming more conscious of the need to play a more proactive role in the struggle against what they saw as the rising tide of repressive religious dogma.
Gradually, religious dogmatism became an important theme in several Arab films. Filmmakers in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria in particular presented strong cinematic polemics against fundamentalist practices and ideology and condemned them as an affront against progressive transformation of Arab societies. They also conceived of the struggle against religious fundamentalism as integral to re-affirming the heterogeneity of Arab national identity.
Veteran filmmaker Youssef Chahine’s 1997 film The Destiny marked a major attempt to counter the rise of religious fundamentalism. The film presents an impressionistic outlook on the struggle against fundamentalism through the subject-consciousness of famed Arab philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes). The film’s plot reclaims the philosopher’s story via a self-reflexive rendering of historical dichotomies between conservative forces and ideas and proponents of intellectual and social progress. Venturing back into 12th century Andalusia, the film concomitantly makes a statement against dogmatic religious repression in contemporary Arab and Muslim societies.
Another one of the more popular films to come out of Egypt over the last decade is Atef Hetata’s 1999 film Closed Doors. The film infers the story of an adolescent boy living with his mother, who is a widow in contemporary Egypt where religious fundamentalists are gaining influence. The plot draws parallels between the struggle against fundamentalism and the boy’s search for identity in a social milieu where sexuality is not a subject to deal openly with.
Later in the 1990s and over the last four years several Algerian and Tunisian films explicitly tackled the issue of fundamentalist terrorism and offered moving accounts of its impact on youth and youth culture. In Merzak Allouache’s 1994 film Beb el-Oued City the protagonist Boualem works the night shift in a bakery and steals the loudspeaker that was installed on his roof by a group of religious fanatics who use it to increase their influence in the district. The group wants to make sure that “decadent” Rai music is not heard by the district’s youth. What follows is a powerful rendering of the clashing realities facing Arab youth as they fight against religious dogmatism. Yamina Bachir-Chouikh’s 2002 film Rachida looks at fundamentalist terrorism against women through the eyes of the schoolteacher Rachida, who refuses to abandon her profession and to abide by the role prescribed for her by a group of religious fanatics. But while New Arab Cinema occasionally deals directly with aspects of personal and collective resistance against the wave of populist religious fanaticism, it mostly alludes indirectly to the topic through offering alternative outlooks on issues of national liberation and national identity.
NATIONAL LIBERATION, PALESTINE AND POST-COLONIAL RESISTANCE
Over the last two decades Arab societies have gone through two major wars (the Gulf war and the Iraq war), an ongoing conflict with Israel, two Palestinian revolts against Israeli occupation, and two major political crises in Egypt and Algeria involving a protracted struggle between secular and religious fundamentalist forces. Given this highly charged political atmosphere, films dealing with anti-colonial resistance remain in the heart of “the agenda” of a significant number of Arab filmmakers.
In the eyes of a Western audience, Usama Mohammad’s stylized approximation of life in a small village in Syria during the 1967 war with Israel (The Box of Life, 2002) can be easily conceived as a call against government repression and traditional patriarchal relations in society. However, the film’s main preoccupation is with the need to enhance linkages between the struggle for modernizing social relations and anti-colonial resistance. This is exemplified in the film’s use of the image of former Egyptian president Nasser as one of its main motifs. The film’s incorporation of Nasser and nationalist songs associated with periods of successful national struggles, both infer a cinematic reincorporation of elements in Arab collective memory and history as tools for understanding the dynamics of achievement and failure in the process of national self-determination. In essence, these references recall Nasser’s attempts to build an independent national economy and to implement major reforms relating to women’s equality, universal health care and education. Hence, the film construes those social and political transformations as integral to anticolonial resistance. Through its explicit critique of patriarchal relations the film appropriates an in-depth analysis of the current state of powerlessness that continues to deprive Arabs from the ability to defend themselves against colonial designs. On his return home the defeated soldier cries: “how can we win a war if half of our society [i.e., women] is not allowed to have an opinion?”
Nasser, Nasser-related motifs and nationalist anti-colonial songs from the 1950s and 1960s are recurring features in several Arab films. While some films’ usage of these motifs usher a nostalgic outlook on Nasser and his role in Arab history, one should not underestimate the anti-colonial and promodernization resonance of such symbolisms for Arab audiences. A key example of how the Nasser theme in New Arab Cinema designates a stance on the politics of modernization and national self-determination is Mohamed Fadel’s 1996 film Nasser 56.
The film became one of the most successful box office hits of the 1990s among Egyptians and audiences around the Arab world. Nasser 56 tackles the dispositions of economic and social change in the context of internal and external politics. By focusing on Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956 and the reaction by Western colonial powers (aided by Israel) the film inadvertently seem to offer a polemic against the hollowness of today’s fundamentalist anti-Western rhetoric. In contrast to such rhetoric the film appears interested in the need to implement concrete steps that would give substance to the idea of national self-determination. In this regard the film links between the struggle for economic and social development (the nationalization of the Suez Canal and the building of the Aswan Dam) and the struggle against colonialism.
Mounir Radi’s film The Visit of Mr. President (Egypt, 2002) even more explicitly tackles the passing of the Nasser era by presenting a scathing critique of the period that followed its overthrow (i.e., the Sadat period and its aftermath). Radi draws unequivocal links between Sadat’s attempt to “Americanize Egypt” and the loss of national identity and the rise of religious sectarianism.
Not all current films restrict themselves to dealing with events from the 1950s to the 1980s. For example, Khaled Youssef’s film The Storm (2000) engage in the more current crisis of the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. Youssef presents a powerful image of a society in crisis with itself. On the one hand the government is militarily supporting the American led coalition against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, on the other hand Egyptians are resentful of Hussein’s invasion but are equally angry that an Egyptian Arab soldier is being forced to fight an Iraqi Arab soldier. Egyptians are also politically shrewd enough to understand the ulterior colonial motives that parallel American moves in the area. The Storm opens itself to discussions dealing with one of the main impasses facing the Arab national liberation movement today, exemplified in the lack of leadership. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, disillusionment about the Left and socialist ideas resulted in a major political vacuum. Between the apathy of Arab “liberals” and the self-destructiveness of religious fundamentalism, The Arab masses seem to have lost hope in the possibility of reconstructing their dreams in social and political progress and national selfdetermination. The film is quite dark, but gives a strong sense of the current dilemmas facing the region.
The Palestine dilemma is one of the more frequently visited themes in New Arab Cinema. Over the last fifteen years, however, more emphasis is put on approaching the question of Palestine through the eyes of its real victims, i.e., peasants, fishermen, working class and unemployed Palestinians. Equal accent is also laid on exploring internal elements that augment the state of stagnation, which prevents the resolution of the Palestine issue.
Films depicting the realities of exile and living under occupation are increasingly moving away from the abstractions associated with earlier films and towards more vivid depiction of the harsh veracity of isolated towns, villages and refugee camps both inside Palestine and in the surrounding Arab diaspora. Michel Khleifi’s films for example characteristically capture such surroundings.
One of Khleifi’s more powerful films is The Tale of the Three Jewels (1995). The film depicts the story of a little Palestinian boy from a refugee camp near Gaza. The boy’s infatuation with a young Palestinian girl (who is even more marginalized because of her Gypsy [Nawar] background) leads him to realize how life and dreams are not always the same. No mention here of the Palestinian Authority, the Oslo Peace Accord or official international efforts to resolve the problem. Instead the film stands as a reminder of the consequences of the Palestine impasse, and how they mainly resonate with and hurt the marginalized social majority of Palestinians. However, Khleifi is not alone in this socially conscious re-articulation of the unresolved Palestine question.
Over the last decade another Palestinian filmmaker, Elia Suleiman has presented a stylistically and thematically new outlook on the issue. In the 1995 film Chronicle of a Disappearance Suleiman presents a witty and highly unsettling portrait of the Fives of the Palestinian middle class living inside 1948 Israel. The film offers a fictionalized self-portrait of the filmmaker himself. In the process, it also allows for a scathing critique of the Palestinian middle class and its loss of national identity.
Another important film, which is among the very few in a long time to deal with the actual history of the Palestinian problem and is among the first large-scale productions to deal with the issue is Egyptian filmmaker Yousri Nasrallah’s 2004 Door to the Sun (Bab Al Shams). Adapted from a novel by Elias Khoury, one of the Arab world’s most acclaimed writers, the film is a four and half hour epical portrayal of the story of the Palestinian exodus. It covers half a century of Palestinian dispossession and resistance through the eyes of two protagonists Younis and his adopted son Khalil. The film is a tale of love, loss, and struggle to reaffirm national identity. It is almost entirely shot on location in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria. Once again, the emphasis here is on reintroducing the history of the Palestinian dilemma as a tangible personal story of dispossession and struggle.
All these films appear more concerned with providing a new outlook on one of the most important Arab national predicaments. For the most part, the tendency in New Arab Cinema is to vibrantly explore internal social dynamics that enhance national stagnation.
NATIONAL IDENTITY AND CULTURAL HETEROGENEITY
Drawing connections between fundamentalism and colonial politics remains mostly subtle in New Arab Cinema. In this regard, films seem more likely to take a direct approach to linking colonial politics with the politics of traditionalism and anti-modernization. One of the more pressing themes explores Arab national identity as a non-static and vibrant process, which defies dogmatic exclusivity and conservative traditionalism.
Since its emergence in the mid 1800s, an-Nahda movement simultaneously accentuated social and cultural heterogeneity as integral to the goal of Arab self-determination and national independence. But while this movement saw itself as part of a process for religious, social and cultural reform, it equally recognized colonialism as a major obstacle to this process. One key element in this regard involved the movement’s advocacy of Arab unity. Later in the 20th century, the composition of the pan-Arab movement consistently involved the active participation of groups and individuals from a wide cross-section of the region’s rich ethnic and religious mosaic and inadvertently advocated largely secular forms of government. (7) Therefore, contrary to what traditional “Orientalists” claim, the notion of Arab unity has consistently been perceived as a materialization of the heterogeneity of Arab societies.
Similarly, New Arab Cinema tends to approach the issue of national self-determination with an eye for emphasizing Arab identity as a heterogeneous identity. What has been taking shape over the last fifteen years and as a direct reaction to the rise of religious fundamentalism is leading to renewed interest in affirming an alternative view and definition of national identity. More than ever before in the history of Arab cinema, films are increasingly offering stories that affirm the notion of national unity as a progressive embodiment of a culturally diverse society.
Three decades ago, Mirzak Allouashe’s film Omar Gatalou pioneered the idea of contemplating and re-defining national identity. The Algerian film was released to overwhelming popular success in 1976 and amounted to a watershed in the history of Arab cinema. Gatalou explored the adventures of a sexist man from a working class background torn between his obsession with masculine behavior and his struggle to break with tradition and to adopt what he conceives as “modern” Western mannerism. The film allegorically offers penetrating insights into the theme of national posturing, repression and alienation. Today, these themes are more frequently and elaborately discussed by a wider group of Arab filmmakers.
Lebanese filmmaker Randa Shahal’s film The Kite (winner of the 2003 Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion Award for best film) points in the direction of an emerging trend in cinematic depiction of Arab identity. The film juxtaposes the dilemmas of an awakening national identity with those of a budding sexuality. An across-the-barbed wire love story between Lamia, a young Arab girl and an Arab Israeli soldier (both from the same Druze religion) becomes a commentary on the oppressive reality of occupation, which divides people and deprives them of their national dignity. Furthermore, the film renders vivid aspects of the way military occupation wreaks havoc on the humanity of both the occupier and the occupied. Equally as important, however, the film renders Arab identity, materialized in Lamia’s own personality, as an expression of the vibrant performative process of struggling against all forms of repression. Earlier examples of this new trend include Fetid Boughedir’s Halfaouine–Boy of the Terraces (Tunisia, 1990), Khairy Beshara’s Ice Cream in Gleam (Egypt, 1992) and Nabil el-Malih’s The Extras (Syria, 1993), among others. All these films tackle the dilemmas of searching for national identity through foregrounding marginalized social elements and lives in the streets and alleyways of major Arab metropolises. Instead of claiming national “universalities,” these films depict social and cultural settings, characters and materiality, which offer complex renderings of a rapidly changing society struggling to reclaim its national identity.
On another level, several Arab films are showing renewed interest in the theme of religious heterogeneity. Recently an Egyptian film by Mounir Radi (An Indian Movie, 2003) stirred major controversy because of its authentic depiction of the “sensitive topic” of a friendship between two young Egyptians, a Copt and a Muslim. While this topic was perceived as “problematic” in light of the sectarianisms exasperated by fundamentalist politics, an increasing number of filmmakers seem to be delving back into Arab collective memory to explore aspects in the multi-religious history of Arab society. Less than a year after the film’s release, I Love Cinema, was released, this time, to present an even more explicit attack on fundamentalism as a multi-religious phenomenon.
As a coming-of-age story about the adventures of a young Egyptian Christian boy sneaking into movie theaters to watch films against the will of his fanatically religious father (the father considers his son’s love of cinema as a sinful act), the film emphasizes the moral and ethical bankruptcy of all forms of dogmatisms. In the process, I Love Cinema affirms the theme of struggle against religious fundamentalism as a unifying element involving Arab Christians and Muslims alike. Inadvertently the film also celebrates the Arab world’s rich ethnic, religious and cultural diversity.
On the one hand, reference to Arab Christians as part of a multi-religious Arab society is one of the themes that were occasionally approached in various Arab films, but not necessarily as the main focus of the narrative. (8) On the other hand, allusion to Jews as part of the Arab cultural mosaic has more or less largely remained a taboo in contemporary Arab cinema. Aside from Youssef Chahine’s portrayal of a love story between a working class communist man and a sympathizing Egyptian Jewish woman in Alexandria … Why? (1978), acknowledging the strong earlier presence of an Arab Jewish community was mostly avoided in Arab films. In fact, up until the aforementioned Chahine’s film, the last film that dealt with the issue of Arab religious heterogeneity, which included a Jewish character, was Hilmi Raflah’s Fatma, Marika and Rachel. Ironically, the film was released one year after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. More recently, however, the topic seems to be making a comeback among a new generation of younger Arab filmmakers.
For most Western audiences the presence of a Jewish girl as one of the main characters in Ferid Boughdir’s 1996 film A Summer in La Goulette could simply be interpreted as an attempt to promote peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews. However the film’s approximation of this clearly sensitive topic subscribes to deeper ideological preoccupations. Presenting the story of three Tunisian teenage girls, a Muslim, a Christian and a Jew, the film renders a portrait of a period of pivotal importance in Arab history, one which sectarians and religious fanatics on both sides of the fence of the Arab-Israeli conflict would prefer to erase from the people of the region’s collective memory. The film provokes revisiting history through exploring religious and cultural richness as an element, which defined the social character of the Arab world for over fifteen hundred years, in this respect, the film allows for a new reading of Arab history not as nostalgia but as vehicle for dealing with the present and for understanding the dynamics of political and social change. It also indirectly testifies to the destructive demographic, political and cultural consequences (most importantly for Arab Jews) associated with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
During the 2003 Ismailia International Film Festival for Documentary & Short Films in Egypt (the largest festival of its kind in the Arab World) the first prize was awarded to Forget Baghdad: Jews and Arabs-the Iraqi connection (Samir 2002). The film depicts the lives and struggles of four Iraqi Arab communist Jews as they deal with national alienation as Arabs living in Israel. It also explores the painful yet humorous stories of the younger generation, the sons and daughters of these Iraqi exiles.
The documentary employs a rich array of archival materials–British, Iraqi, and Israeli newsreels, Hollywood features, Israeli “Boureka” comedies, and Egyptian musical comedies–to tackle its main theme on national and cultural alienation. After its initial release, the film was later broadcast several times in 2004 on prime time television on al-Jazira satellite network, a channel with the highest number of viewers in the Arab world. If any indication, all the above-mentioned films may be at the forefront of a renewed and bold effort on the part of a new generation of Arab filmmakers to break away from the rhetoric of religious sectarianism. They also indicate renewed momentum for progressive non-sectarian Arab politics and more inclusive appreciation and celebration of the heterogeneous nature of Arab identity.
POLITICS OF GENDER AND SEXUAL LIBERATION
The notion of anti-colonial resistance represents an integral and unavoidable component of New Arab Cinema’s approach towards dealing with gender and sexual politics. One of the earliest examples of this trend is Michel Khleifi’s classic Wedding in the Galilee (1987) which mainly focuses on patriarchal relationships and their impact on the lives of young Palestinians living in Israel. But among the most powerful aspects of the film is its ability to draw connections between repressive gender and sexual relations within Palestinian society and the state of stagnation in achieving the goal of national liberation and self-determination for the Palestinian people. In this regard, Khleifi’s film emphasizes the interactivity between the task of sexual liberation and that of national liberation and appears to be stressing that neither of these tasks can move forward while the other lags behind.
Mohamed Khan’s film The Dreams of Hind and Camelia (1989) portrays the struggle by two Egyptian working class women to break away from patriarchal chains while drawing connections with aspects of class and post-colonial oppression. Camelia’s rejection of her abusive marital relationship leads her to rebel against her upper middle class employer whom she works for as domestic help. Khan’s film draws a picture of Egyptian upper class’s infatuation with ‘Western’ values as a facade that masks, and essentially legitimizes patriarchy and social repression. Another film dealing with a similar topic is Moufida Tlatli’s Silences of the Palace (1994). Tlatli’s film received wide recognition and enthusiasm in the West, but many critics failed to see how the film links between the notions of sexual, social and national liberation.
The film juxtaposes anti-colonial resistance under French rule with the struggle against Tunisian upper class patriarchy and its complicity in supporting colonial power. Towards the end of the film, Khadiga’s cry against the repression of her voice as a woman simultaneously assumes the voice of defiance against French colonialism. By insisting on singing the banned Tunisian national song in front of a shocked and dismayed Tunisian upper class audience Khadiga defines the essence of her stance in the battle against patriarchy as integral to resisting social and colonial repression. As the film flash-forwards to the present, it resituates the main protagonist within the reality of incessant and unabated patriarchy in modern day post-colonial Tunisia. The film redefines new parameters for Khadiga’s struggle to affirm her identity: her rejection of aborting her baby against her boyfriend’s wishes denotes her continued resistance to patriarchy but also underscores her defiance of the betrayals by today’s “post-independence” power elite. Issues relating to sexual relations in New Arab Cinema are also reflecting a much bolder outlook on a major taboo subject.
Arab cinema has a long tradition of homosexual themes or sub-themes. Similar to the case of films in most other societies, including in Hollywood prior to the sexual revolution of the late 1960s, homophobia paved the way for the creation of cinematic codes that tended to imply, but also mask homosexual relations. However, over the last fifteen years more Arab filmmakers are delving intrepidly into dealing with the issue of gay and bisexual relations within Arab society.
One of the earliest Arab filmmakers to indirectly connect between the repression of bisexuality and patriarchal oppression is Syrian director Ousama Muhammad. His 1988 debut Stars in Broad Daylight explores the dissolution of a family, paradoxically during its preparation for a wedding, a ritual that is supposed to bring family members together in shared joy. Set in a rural Syrian village, the film depicts a homosexual couple whose relationship becomes a backdrop for exposing the divisive dynamics of patriarchal oppression, and connections between familial and sociopolitical violence.
Another important film that deals with homosexuality in Arab society from a political perspective is Yousry Nasrallah’s 1993 film Mercedes. The film approaches this theme through depicting the relationship between a man who abandons his upper class family to befriend a working class gay man. The character rejects the convenience of remaining in a “respectable” relationship with his male artist partner in Europe and chooses “a wild” life-style with his working class lover in Cairo. The couple joins a group of young marginalized working class Egyptians, mostly with ambivalent sexual identities. The film describes aspects of the hypocritical and homophobic attitudes of Egypt’s upper classes and links those attitudes to their self-loathing infatuation with Western culture and preoccupation with carving a piece for themselves within the global capitalist economy. Mercedes deals with the issue of same sex relationship by specifically accounting for multi-layered dispositions of sexual repression under post-colonial conditions.
However, over the last five years, and more than ever before in Arab cinema’s history, films are frequently beginning to deal with homosexuality more or less as a matter of fact issue. While many of these films are produced by Arab exiles in Europe, they nevertheless point in the direction of a growing Arab cinematic practice. Two examples are Moroccan 1998 film Adieu Forain by Daoud Aoulad-Syad which features a homosexual transvestite dancer in the lead role, and Une minute de soleil en moins (Nabil Ayouch, 2002), where the principle character is a police inspector with a matter-of-course friendship with a transvestite. Another film is Khaled al-Haggar’s Room to Rent (2000) where Ali, an Egyptian living in London has come to the end of his student visa but wants to remain. During his attempt to stay in Britain he befriends Mark, a gay photographer with whom he establishes a strong relationship, which involves the development of a new outlook on sexuality and socially constructed sexual roles. Other films are even clearer in their rebelliousness over sexual repression of gays and bisexuals but, due to their experimental character, seem less likely to reach a wide audience. Lebanese Akram Zaatari’s How Much I Love You and Palestinian Tawfik Abu Wael’s Diary of a Male Whore are two important cases in point.
STYLISTIC HETEROGENEITY AND MODERNIST SELF-REFLEXIVITY IN NEW ARAB CINEMA
Discussions on the interpretation of the religious text during the early period of an-Nahda later expanded to include a call to break away from the restrictive sanctification of language and its use in literary and artistic work. A broad cultural cluster of Arab writers and artists in the 19th century advocated renewal (Tajdeed) of literary and critical discourse by way of challenging and overcoming centuries of social and intellectual stagnation (Joumoud) under the colonial rule of the Ottoman Empire. With the collapse of Ottoman rule after World War I and its replacement with Western colonial domination, new alignments of anti-colonial forces began to take shape. In the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s, anti-colonial movement in the Arab world comprised forces that were even more open to Western political and cultural discourse. Liberal, humanist and Marxist ideas widened their influence among Arab intellectuals, and in the process helped usher closer examination of contemporary artistic and cultural trends emerging at the time in Europe and in the Soviet Union. An emerging realignment later helped form a nucleus for developing new “modernist” stylistic techniques and approaches among Arab intellectuals.
Since its early beginnings in the late 1920s Egyptian cinema evolved and reinvented itself by incorporating a heterogeneous style and language. Up until the early 1940s this cinema’s adoption of Hollywood’s well tested and successful generic and stylistic formulas, played a major role in enhancing the popularity of this cinema across the Arab world. However, the development of Egyptian cinema even in the period prior to Nasser’s 1952 nationalist revolution can also be described in lieu of its rather eclectic incorporation of a homegrown “social realist” trend. (9) Nevertheless, this cinema maintained close proximity to the generic and stylistic conventions of classical Hollywood cinema.
Western modernist models of the early 1920s and 1930, including those from Germany, the Soviet Union and France were not effectively and methodically integrated into Arab cinema until the early 1950s in the aftermath of Nasser’s revolution. By the mid 1950s Egyptian cinema was loosely applying an amalgamation of “realist” cinematic trends including French poetic realism, Italian neo-realism and socialist realism. (10) Also, a new openness towards “progressive” world cinemas and film practices was reflected in the recently discovered interest in Soviet formalist practices of Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov and the expressionistic techniques of German filmmakers of the 1920s.
Formal cinematic modernist impulses, however, arriving from the West (and East), were assimilated by Egyptian filmmakers as equally valuable and complementary rather than antithetical to Arab film practice. Salah Abou-Seif’s 1953 film Raya Wa Skina is an example of concomitant utilization of the techniques of neo-realism, Soviet montage editing and German expressionist traditions. Youssef Chahine’s 1958 film Cairo Station draws on similar incorporation of neo-realism, German expressionism and Eisenstein’s montage techniques, yet fundamentally maintains the classical Hollywood structural paradigm. This eclectic relationship with various stylistic cinematic models continues to dominate most Arab films today.
More Arab films however tend to explore meaning not simply through narrative content, but also through a performative articulation of multiple generic and formal models. Lately, veteran Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine has been utilizing this generic and stylistic “play” more than at any other time in his long film career. His two films Destiny (1997) and Silence … We’re Rolling (2001) as well as his most recent film Alexandria-New York (2004) are examples of this trend which has become integral to an increasing number of films made by younger Arab filmmakers, many of whom subscribe to the thematic preoccupations of New Arab Cinema.
In post-colonial text, the interest in “the attitude of the image, the strategies of the narrative, the placing of the reader, and the cultural coding of those aesthetic principles [are what] inform the whole process of fiction.” (11) For its part, New Arab Cinema relies heavily for example on the incorporation of music and dance tableaus (a tradition which helped define the success of Arab cinema from the 1930s to the 1950s) to enhance “playful” narratives and lucid themes. Through its rich and dialectically charged stories and its amalgamation of cultural references, artifices and practices, New Arab cinema forges an intertextuality which links the past, the present and the possibility of social and political change: a sort of cultural memory which in the words of Jesus Martin Barbero has the capacity to exceed the “cumulative user-value function; [one which] is processual and productive, it filters, charges and empowers shaping a dialectic permanence and change, resistance and exchange.” (12)
New Arab Cinema also employs iconographic patterns of costume, architecture and landscapes to create a rendition of its political dialectic. It also draws upon coalescence of the local traditions of oral story telling, poetry recital and folk, as well as a rich fusion of local, Western and diverse forms of dance, music and lifestyles. All these cultural patterns initiate rather subjective, multi-layered and de-centered film plots. These patterns also transpire as sites of struggle that reaffirm a renewed sense of national identity and collective memory. As such, these films allude to an Arab modernist continuum from which many intellectuals draw inspiration as they variously challenge colonial and neo-colonial hegemony and the impact and practices of the politics of religious fundamentalism and sectarianism.
As Linda Hutcheon points out, the textual “play” agenda of the postcolonial text differs from that of the post-modern: while the first concerns itself with prioritizing social and political action, the latter is more focused on deconstructing orthodoxies. (13) As such, body performance in New Arab Cinema represents more or less a cultural signifier, which, in the tradition of postcolonial texts from all over the world “stands metonymically for all the ‘visible’ signs of difference, and their varied forms of cultural and social inscription.” (14) On another level, over the last fifteen years many Arab films began to emanate an increasingly self-reflexive attitude to their adoption of various stylistic and generic practices. Several new films increasingly utilize narrative structures and formal strategies and patterns that draw attention to themselves.
The Palestinian film Devine Intervention (Elia Suleiman 2002) pays tribute to the classical cinematic narrative paradigm by utilizing it as the general framework for the film’s plot. But this is where Suleiman ends his “play” with classical paradigmatic conventions. The film constructs the story of a young Palestinian filmmaker (played by Suleiman himself) through intercepting multiple shots of the filmmaker (as filmmaker) placing cue cards on the wall of his apartment. Each of the cards titles one of the main scenes and sequences in the film and provides some coherence to an otherwise “disconnected” plot structure. Self-reflexivity here enriches the film’s contemplation of the poignant state of affairs of middle class Palestinians living under Israeli rule and the stagnating inconclusiveness of their struggle for national self-determination.
Jocelyn Saab’s 1995 film Once Upon a Time: Beirut depicts a barrage of images of film clips, film archives, and downtown old movie theaters. As two young women initiate a journey to explore similes of pre-civil war Lebanese capital they rediscover clips from Western and Arabic films, including ones that were made by the Lumiere brothers, documentary and fiction films from the 1920s up to the early 1970s. Saab’s reflection upon her own role as a filmmaker functions as a tool to understand the dilemmas of the present by way of exploring history. The film contemplates the polity of representation, not simply as a colonial cultural practice but also as it is encoded by the post-colonial subject. The journey by the two young women unearths numerous versions of the cinematic history of their beleaguered city and allows them to reflect upon and confront questions about the future, including the possibilities of social and political change.
In Ziad Doureiri’s 1998 film West Beirut a young boy’s infatuation with using his super 8 camera results in making him a witness to the destruction of a war-torn city. Soon after the film begins, our point of view assumes that of Tarek’s camera as he captures aspects of his personal adolescent life. Tarek’s presumed journey of self-discovery soon turns outward as he begins to film images of a bus massacre (an event which in fact marked the beginning of the Lebanese civil war in 1975). Throughout the film, the camera constantly mediates between personal and public spaces. But Tarek’s cinematic appropriation of the ugly reality of war gradually allows him a broader perspective on the events that surround him. Towards the end of the film a salvo of documentary footage of the Lebanese crisis dominates the screen, but this time not as “civil war” but as manifestation of the region’s struggle with competing regional and colonial interests. What begins as a young boy’s freestyle cinematic contemplation of his own little world, hopes and fantasies soon transforms into an exploration of the history of war and peace in the entire region.
Increased interest in Arab cinema over the last decade is largely linked to the emergence and re-emergence of important trends in the region’s filmmaking practices, most of which with direct roots in social and political developments in the area. Those trends are themselves encouraged by greater political openness and relative relaxation of official censorship within various Arab states. They are also enhanced by situations that allow a growing number of filmmakers, both local and emigre, to utilize financial and logistical support from European producers and governments. Many filmmakers from Palestine, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Lebanon in particular have been successful in pursuing and closing deals on a variety of such co-productions. But filmmakers in the region continue to make films in their own countries and in many cases with the support of government institutions. Algeria, Morocco and Syria remain-albeit with varied levels of success–prime examples in this regard. In Egypt, where film production over the last three decades has been suffering from the negative effects of the privatization of several government film institutions is now finally showing signs of recovery both in quantity and in quality. All these broadly demarcated institutional developments have been contributing for over fifteen years to the emergence of a new movement, which this article has labeled New Arab Cinema.
Although some of the films associated with New Arab Cinema (including many that were referred to in this article) have achieved some success in reaching broad audiences, the fact remains that many others have remained limited in their exposure. As has been the case with similar movements associated with other national cinemas (such as the French New Wave, New German Cinema and New Latin American Cinema) the emergence of New Arab Cinema remains largely (but not exclusively) limited in the breadth of its influence on Arab audiences. Similar to these movements, New Arab Cinema constitutes one trend, but not necessarily a dominant current in today’s Arab cinema. However, New Arab Cinema represents a current that in many ways has affirmed its presence within Arab filmmaking practices through its nonremittent struggle to find ways to transcend marginalization, a fate that is usually associated with avant-garde, experimental and other forms of nonmainstream cinemas around the world.
An important feature of New Arab Cinema, in comparison to several other “newer” and “New” national cinemas, is its conscious attentiveness to connecting with wider audiences. New Latin American Cinema’s interest in social and political change resulted in similar conscious concern to that of New Arab Cinema over the need to create interactive links with its audience. Many of the films referred to in this article have been shown in mainstream theaters across the Arab world and occasionally appeared on prime time spots on local as well as pan-Arab television stations. These films were also the subject of attention by mainstream film reviewers and critics and were shown in major film festivals both inside and outside the Arab world. There is no need to go into detail about the reasons behind the relative popularity of these films. It is important, however, to point out that such popularity is primarily linked to how these films consciously seek to break down artificial barriers of form, geography, “high” and “low” art, performer and artist that so often delineate cinematic cultural practices in the West. In this regard, New Arab Cinema as post-colonial cinema remains focused on becoming a proactive player in the struggle for national self-determination and social change. As such, films associated with this cinema appear conscious of the need to reach out to wider audiences with messages that are indeed of urgent relevance not only to regional but also to world politics.
New Arab Cinema reflects subjectivities that are at once thoroughly anti-colonial and variably preoccupied with facing up to the challenges stemming from the rise of religious fundamentalism and sectarianism. They are also profoundly modernist in their outlook of the possibilities for cohesive social, political and cultural renewal and transformation of Arab society. As such, this cinema variously points in the direction of a confluence between social and cultural transformation, achieving national self-determination, emphasizing national unity through stressing social heterogeneity, and accentuating cinematic cultural practice as political practice.
(1.) Historically, Arab cinemas have been relegated to the margins of film studies scholarship. New interest in Arab cinemas however is increasingly manifest in activities within film and media studies’ circles. Examples of this include the creation of the Middle East Caucus in the Society for Cinema and Media Studies and the relatively more frequent presentation of studies on Arab cinemas within academic conferences in Canada and the United States. Articles, interviews, reviews and casual references to Arab films are now found in film trade magazines and journals such as Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Cinema Journal, CineAction, Cineaste, New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Screen, Sight and Sound. Over the last fifteen years several anthologies, monographs and books variously dealing with Arab cinema were published. See by Ghassoub (2000), Dikelman (1999), Darwish (1998), Shafik (1998), Zuhur (1998), Arasoughly (1996), Armbrust (1996) and Malkmus and Armes (1991. Worthy of specific mention is Ella Shohat’s work on Third World and Israeli cinemas most of which inadvertently offers a major contribution to understanding the dynamics of Arab film practice and to critiquing Western readings of “third world” cultures in general.
(2.) Zuzana Pick, “The Politics of Modernity in Latin America: Memory, Nostalgia and Desire in Barroco,” CineAction, 34 (1994): 43.
(3.) Mohammad Khalaf-Allah Ahmad (in Arabic), Markers on the Road towards Modernist Arabic’ Classicism (Cairo: League of Arab States, 1977): 5.
(4.) For an excellent description of the non-sectarianism in the Arab nationalist movement, exemplified in the struggle against early Zionist colonialism in Palestine, read Emile Touma’s (in Arabic) The Roots of the Palestine Question (Beirut: Palestine Liberation Organization, 1973).
(5.) For a more comprehensive look at the interactivity between Arab modernity, renewal of religious interpretation of the Qur’an and the 19th century Arab Renaissance movement see Maher Al-Sharif (in Arabic) “How the End of the Movement for Religious Renewal Contributed to Jeopardizing the project of the Arab Renaissance” in At-Tarik, 1 (January-February 2002): 6-27.
(6.) An important study of the rise of modern Islamic fundamentalism is found in Stephen Schwartz’s The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’ud from Tradition to Terror (New York: Doubleday, 2002). The book provides an overview of the rise of the Wahabi movement in the late 19th century as predecessor to the more recent forms of Islamic fundamentalisms. It also highlights aspects of the manipulation of these groups first, by the Ottoman Empire and later by Western colonialism and neo-colonialism in an effort to counter the rise of Arab nationalism. Another important study in this area is John Cooley’s Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism (London: Pluto Press, 2000). The book specifically addresses connections between the rise of Islamic fundamentalist groups, the Cold War and anti-Communist politics. The former ABC reporter suggests that as far back as the 1950s, former American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles pointed out the need to enhance a “common bond” with “the religions of the East” in fighting communism. Cooley argues that western analysts in the think-tanks and intelligence services in Washington, London, Paris, Rome and elsewhere asked themselves, “who or what is the principal enemy of their enemy, communism? … The tacit consensus was that the Muslim religion if translated into politics, could be harnessed as a mighty force to oppose Moscow in the Cold War” (50-160).
Eventually, the growth of Islamic fundamentalist groups in the Middle East and North Africa directly enhanced a simultaneous decline in influence of the left-oriented secular nationalist movements. The death of former left secular nationalist Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser in 1970, compounded with the effects of the Arab defeat in the 1967 war with Israel (which discredited in a major way the forces of the nationalist left in the Arab World) the door was now open for some sort of a political alternative. A major shift in the political paradigm in the entire area began with the Lebanese civil war in the mid 1970s. This war represented a highlight of the weakening support to leftist and Marxist groups in the Arab World. Consequently, Islamic groups in the entire area began to assert themselves as a radical alternative to “Godless Communism.”
(7.) From a cultural perspective, the pan-Arab project may seem somewhat problematic because it brings together diverse populations with various cultural and historical specificities (in this regard, the problematic exclusion by some Arab nationalists of African, Kurdish and Berber minority populations, for example, cannot be overlooked). However, the fact remains that a substantial number of the pan-Arab movement’s intellectual and political leaders came from a cross-section of the region’s diverse religious and ethnic groups including Christian. Jewish and Kurdish minorities.
Irrespective of their varied approaches and political agendas, almost all major influential pan-Arab parties in the second half of the 20th century advocated a secular approach to governance. In fact, most founders of these movements were from religious and ethnic minorities. Michael Aflak (the Baath Party), George Habash (The Movement of Arab Nationalists), Antoun Saadi (the Syrian Social National Party), and the theoretical father of modern day Arab nationalism, Costantine Zureik, were Chrisitans. Marxists of pan-Arab orientation include Farajallah Al-Hilou, a Lebanese Christian, and legendary Kurdish Syrian communist leader Khaled Bakdash.
(8.) The only exception is Hassan el-Imam’s powerful portrayal of an early 20th century famous Christian dancer in Shafika al-Kobtiah (1963).
(9.) Aside from the fact that Arab cinema successfully articulated stories, themes and characters seen in Hollywood, this cinema was equally successful in presenting vivid images and textures from the lives and settings of the working and peasant classes of its own social milieu. This enhanced the evolvement of a homegrown “social realist” formal tradition that, up until today, continues to mark Egyptian and Arab films. An important early example here is Kamal Selim’s 1939 film al-Azima (Determination) which came out almost five years before Roberto Rosellini’s neo-realist 1945 masterpiece Roma, Open City. Al-Azima mostly used a documentary style in its presentation of a social problem drawn from real life and conditions in urban Cairo. After working out the broad outline of his script, Kamal Selim spent five months studying people in the working class districts of the city, whose textures he planned to copy, noting people’s day-to-day existence, their bearings, gestures, and speech so as to create a more realistic script. The result was a script, which was free of melodramatic effects. The lighting and framing were calculated to “observe” rather than heighten the atmosphere of the film. Without any doubt, the eventual popularity of the film influenced Egyptian cinema in a major way. Later Egyptian films, many of which began to frequently draw their themes and characters from working class settings.
(10.) Viola Shafik Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identiy (Cairo: The American University Press, 1998): 126.
(11.) See Russel McDougall, “The Body as Cultural Signifier,” in B. Ashcroft, G. Griffith and H. Tiffin, (Eds.), The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (London and New York: Routledge, 1995): 336.
(12.) Jesus Martin-Barbero, Communication, Culture and Hegemony. From the Media to Mediations, translated by Elizabeth Fox and Robert White (London: SAGE Publications, 1993): 148.
(13.) Linda Hutcheon, “Circling the Downspout of Empire,” in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (London and New York: Routledge, 1995): 130.
(14.) See Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffths and Helen Tiffin, (Eds.), in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (London and New York: Routledge, 1995): 321.
Malek Khouri is assistant professor and coordinator of the Film Studies Program at the University of Calgary.
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