Muslim women or women living in Muslim countries are too often portrayed in western media as quiet and submissive. However, if you start to look into foreign cinema, a growing number of movies now feature characters who are strong, assertive women taking control of their own lives. Sure, the characters hit obstacles, experience sexism and live through horrible situations, but their strong personalities shine through.
When I noticed that few articles had covered this subject, I decided to make my own list. I’m not Muslim, nor do I live in a Muslim country. I am just tired of seeing the same stereotypes that fail to present aspects of reality that are more complex and that don’t fall back on typical stereotypes. This subject deserves a full essay or even a memoir. I’ve decided to make a humble list which, I hope, will bring lots of food for thought to everyone who reads it. The following movies have challenged my own preconceived ideas about these cultures.
Please note: The title is somewhat inaccurate: these characters are not all Muslim. However, they all live in or come from Muslim countries. An interesting fact is that many of these films were directed by women.
Set in Saudi Arabia, this film tells the story of Wajdja, a young 12 year old girl who sets her sights on a brand new bike. Her rebellious ways put her into trouble but when she learns that a Koran recitation competition could earn her enough money to buy the bike, she puts herself to work. This is first Saudi-Arabian film directed by a woman (Haifaa Al-Mansour).
Living in the West bank (Palestine), Muna and her teenaged son Fadi receive green cards which earn them entry into the United States. They move to a suburb near Chicago, where Muna’s brother has been living for years. As they settle into life in their new, more stable country, both mother and son are quickly hit with a few hard truths. In 2003, anti-Muslim behavior is on the rise and even though Muna and her family are not Muslims, they are affected by hurtful comments and ignorant behaviors. They also experience culture shock and have to work at entry-level jobs. Through it all, Muna remains determined to keep her spirits up and to provide a better life for her son.