Halal Love to 678: 7 Feminist movies from the Arab world that you must watch

From finding the small joys of childhood to navigating the many trials of marriage in the Arab world, these films cover it all

One of the most glaring controversies last year was CBFC denying the certificate to Alankrita Srivastava’s ‘lady-oriented’ movie Lipstick Under My Burkha. This was not the first time a supposedly feminist movie made in India was denied certificate because the moral cops of the Censor Board felt that movies like this will ‘ruin’ the sanskari fabric of the nation.

But a spate of feminist movies have come out in the recent past from India and more or less all have faced some sort of problems from different sections in the country without a rhyme and reason. But if this is happening in a democratic setup like India, then imagine what it must be like for films, that too feminist in its appeal and theme, in autocratic regimes like in the Arab world.

Even with many rules and regulations to curb artistic freedom, the Arab world has a rich and long history of making films; but most importantly, even under less than favourable circumstances, Arab cinema has produced some wonderful masterpieces including feminist treatises. Some, that might just give their Bollywood counterparts a run for their money.

And here are seven movies from the Arab world that you should definitely watch to explore a land rarely explored through the eyes of a female.

1) 678 (Egypt)
Director Mohamed Diab became a toast of international circuit thanks to his politically charged Eshtebak (The Clash) that chronicles the Arab Spring in Egypt, but before that he made the equally formidable 678, about sexual harassment in the Egyptian society by focusing on three different characters and the abuse they face in an apathetic society.

The movie was attacked with many claiming it defamed Egyptian society, but Indians will easily relate to this spectacular bit of cinema.

2) Wadjda (Saudi Arabia)
This movie has two firsts. First of all, it is the first full-length to be shot in Saudi Arabia and also a first for a female director, Haifaa al-Mansour. For a nation known for its stringent laws – only recently easing its rules regarding women driving cars – this is a heartwarming tale about a young girl who wants to own a cycle and for this, she enrols in a Quran-reciting competition. This little quest of hers exposes how even little joys for females requires great sacrifice, and how women need to be really careful while crossing the patriarchal line.

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3) Caramel (Lebanon)
This Lebanese masterpiece focuses on the lives of five women with different aspirations, dreams and desires, and how society tramples over them at every possible step. Directed by Nadine Labaki, who also acted in the movie, Caramel gives us a peep inside the world seldom visited as they keep grappling with various issues and finally forming a sort of camaraderie that gives them a chance to pursue what they want. If Lipstick Under My Burkha was never your cup of tea, you can try Caramel for dessert.

4) The Silences of the Palace (Tunisia)
Moufida Tlatli, the first woman from the Arab world to direct a movie, brings a tragic tale of exploitation women suffered in a Tunisian royal household. Alia visits the royal palace where her mother, Khedija where she was employed and traces the trauma of patriarchal shackles and the exploitation that happened inside the palace and also what happens outside. Through childhood memories, carefully reconstructed, Alia’s character becomes the living embodiment of this suffering as the movie also gives a glimpse of the past, present as well as the future.

5) Viva Laldjerie (Algeria)
Directed by Nadir Moknèche, the three female protagonists of this movie have to hide from fundamentalists, their conservative neighbours and their loved ones because independence and freedom come at a price and it can’t be exposed to such vagaries of life. Viva Laldjerie takes you through the oppressive Algerian society as it slips into the abyss of Islamic extremism while the women fight their own battles trying to live a life of dignity.

6) Much Loved (Morocco)
This movie probably takes its cue from Caramel but delves deep into the world of prostitutes in Morocco and the hypocrisy in how they’re treated. Like many of the films mentioned in the list, the actresses and director received death threats and the movie was condemned for portraying Morocco negatively as the subject was considered a taboo. While movies like Much Loved tries desperately to expose the rot in the society, there are elements that try and hide them as much as possible. But this bold tale of four prostitutes goes where seldom Moroccan movies have gone or in that case Arab cinema.

Also read: The endangered specimen that is Neeraj Kabi

7) Halal Love (Lebanon/International)
This international collaboration set in Beirut is a feminist love story that explores the lives of different women and the men in their life. There is the divorcee trying to rekindle her romance, there is the newlywed couple always bickering while another woman is busy looking for a bride for her husband. These activities might be considered harmless but not under the ever watchful eyes of the religious watchdogs and hence it becomes a tussle to balance religion and things that are forbidden. But this is again where women break the rules but they also break their hearts in the process.