By Guest Contributor Nour Soubani
The recent independent film, The Citizen, raises a number of important questions related to identity, belonging, and representation that are relevant and challenging to many American communities at large today.
Ibrahim, a middle-aged Lebanese man, wakes up one day and actualizes his dream: he wins a ticket from the Green Card Lottery to come to America. He lands in New York on September 10th, 2001, and befriends Diane, an attractive white American woman who is just escaping an abusive relationship. The next fateful morning is the September 11th attack, and the rest of the movie follows Ibrahim’s experience as an Arab Muslim in a post-9/11 New York City, the relationships he builds with Diane and those who both support and villainize him, and his interactions with the law.
Ibrahim, although not a legal citizen, is painted as the ideal American: He helps the homeless, works an honest job, and intervenes at a crime scene to save a man’s life. Although he looks distinctly Arab, and some suspicion is raised that he is related to one of the hijackers, there is a clear assertion throughout the movie that Ibrahim is completely disconnected from the evil terrorists who attacked the United States, and from the Middle East as a whole. In fact, multiple times throughout the film he expresses how grateful he is to leave Lebanon, to come to America and pursue “the American Dream”, and to leave behind his penniless and unsuccessful life. While the protagonist’s morals and values are virtuous—this was enough to make the audience fall in love with him—his character functions with a subtle undertone that reinforces a binaric hierarchy between the U.S. and the rest, one that inevitably places America at the top. Ibrahim comes to the United States to make something of himself; the storyline implies that this was inherently not possible where he came from, nor were any efforts to do so valued and encouraged. He is portrayed as an exception to the rule—a respectable, mannered, responsible and hardworking individual, who, with these admirable, individualist traits, clearly does not belong in the Arab world. The character of Ibrahim—while well-intentioned—in fact plays into Orientalist notions that otherize the Middle East, creating an unknown, inferior entity out of it that inherently does not hold the same purely “American” values that cause Ibrahim to succeed.