Cherien Dabis is having one of those dreamlike weeks. She was named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch in 2009, and her film Amreeka had its world premiere at Sundance this past weekend to a standing ovation and positive reviews. Now all she needs to do it sell the film and get an agent.
Not being in Sundance, I haven’t seen the film but if I were there, it would been tops on my list. Here’s the description from the catalog:
Director Cherien Dabis’s auspicious debut feature, Amreeka, is a warm and lighthearted film about one Palestinian family’s tumultuous journey into Diaspora amidst the cultural fallout of America’s war in Iraq. Muna Farah, a Palestinian single mom, struggles to maintain her optimistic spirit in the daily grind of intimidating West Bank checkpoints, the constant nagging of a controlling mother, and the haunting shadows of a failed marriage. Everything changes one day when she receives a letter informing her that her family has been granted a U.S. green card. Reluctant to leave her homeland, but realizing it may be the only way to secure a future for Fadi, her teenage son, Muna decides to quit her job at the bank and visit her relatives in Illinois to see about a new life in a land that gives newcomers a run for their money.Dabis weaves an abundance of humor and levity into this tale of struggle, displacement, and nostalgia and draws an absorbing and irresistibly charming performance from actress Nisreen Faour as Muna, who stands at the heart of this tale. Amreeka glows with the truth and magic of everyday life and signals the arrival of an exciting, new directorial talent.
She took a couple of minutes to discuss the film and her Sundance experience.
Women & Hollywood: What made you want to make this film?
Cherien Dabis: The story is quite personal, inspired by my family and loosely based on true events. I grew up in a small town in Ohio of about 10,000 people. I actually grew up between Ohio and Jordan but most of my time was spent in this small town where as Arab Americans we were isolated because there was no Arab community and not a whole lot of diversity. For a while everything was fine and we fit in relatively well until the first Gulf War when my family was scapegoated and overnight we virtually became the enemy. All kinds of absurd things happened. My father who is a physician lost a lot of his patients because they wouldn’t support an Arab doctor and then it came to a head when the Secret Service came to my high school to investigate a rumor that my 17 year old sister threatened to kill the president.
In Madea Goes to Jail, Sonny, Madea’s nephew, his wife Vanessa, and their infant son, live with the outspoken matriarch. Vanessa is in graduate school, and Sonny works hard at the local jail, pulling extra hours to finance her education. The two have a deal that once she earns her degree, it will be his turn to go back to school. But it soon becomes clear that Vanessa is an ill-mannered, disrespectful, spoiled, ungrateful bitch who doesn’t want to do the right thing by catering to her husband out of gratitude for his hard work and support. She loudly complains about taking care of the baby or performing any other domestic chore, stressing the need to complete her graduate study so she can make something out of herself. She’s so out of pocket that the busybody next door neighbor, Ella, admittedly manless, irons Sonny’s work shirt for Vanessa, as she sings about how to take care of a man and keep him happy. Continue reading →
I can’t remember where I was or whom I was with when I heard and realized that we are all temporarily able-bodied. I’m sure it was this decade, perhaps 2003, because I really had not thought about my privilege as an able-bodied person until I began my graduate work and met Angel, a woman in my cohort who was focusing on women of Color with disabilities. I also didn’t think about it until I lost one of my abilities.
Being trained as a scholar specializing in intersectional theory and thought, disability was a “difference” rarely mentioned and discussed unless Angel brought it up. We can see the continued absence and exclusion of people with disabilities in popular culture. Yet, if they are present, we mostly see how people with disabilities are considered anything but “normal,” and usually there is a level of wanting to find a “cure” to become “normal.”
What would images that view disability as a social construction look like? How can those of us who are educators incorporate discussions of disability into our teaching? Where are resources for us? How can we use popular culture when we teach about disability? Continue reading →
Three reasons that Gran Torino is more than just another movie about some white person “saving” people of color:
1. It rejects the idea of a “post-racial” society.
While Hollywood tripe like Finding Forrester, Freedom Writers and the like either minimize, or try to resolve, racial tension, Gran Torino confronts them head-on. Those who tout political “correctness” over honesty (however brash) might decry Walt Kowalski’s (Eastwood) blatant racism. The last white person in his run-down midwestern neighborhood, he bitterly throws out every slur imaginable, and I can’t front – it was unsettling to hear. However, an interesting juxtaposition is made between Walt and his supposedly more “liberal” son, who protests his father’s bigotry but lives a decidedly more sheltered, suburban existence in contrast to his father’s working-class life as a Korean War veteran. Without excusing Walt’s distasteful views on race, Eastwood explores where such bitterness may have come from, exposing it as something that is bigger than just him (unlike Mike Douglas in Fallling Down). With a class consciousness absent from similiar film templates, Gran Torino asks the question: who is the real racist – the working-class white dude who tosses slurs around but actually interacts – sometimes friendly, sometimes bitterly – with these communities? Or the bourgeois white dude who has learned not to use these words but never has into interact with communities of color? Perhaps both are racist, but at least one is honest about it.
I head down 14th street towards Webster… and that’s as far as i get. A couple blocks further down, the crowd looms, and its a riot crowd. i can smell something burning, and Broadway is obscured with smoke that could be the source of the smell, or tear gas. A metal hulk slowly rolls out of a backlit cloud of smoke. it is a paramilitary tank with a mounted water cannon. Is this my neighborhood?
It is really easy to think of Oakland as the home of side shows, The Black Panthers, the spiritual seat of pimp mythology. It is easy to think of Oakland as San Francisco’s pathologized other. However, there is a very strong thread of Wild Wild West street justice that permeates the culture of Oakland. A shoot first and maybe ask questions later steelo that is both reflected in how the police and how the hood resorts to violence to deal with rage and retribution. Furthermore, there is a shoot first and ask questions later attitude associated with American foreign policy. Operation Iraqi Freedom anyone? Continue reading →
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World