by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie
Fatemeh Fakhraie spoke with Cherien Dabis, the director behind the film Amreeka, a story about a Palestinian woman and her son as they adjust to their new life in America.
It seems that your experiences as an Arab-American have really shaped the way you tell stories. I remember reading in another interview of yours that the story behind Amreeka is a personal one. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Cherien Dabis: The story is very much inspired by my family and the love, strength and pride that held us together during a difficult time. I grew up in a small town in Ohio where there was no anonymity. So everyone knew that my parents were Arab and that we spoke Arabic at home and went away to Jordan and the West Bank every summer. That was all it took for people to treat us differently. Mostly they were just ignorant, asking questions like: Are there cars in Jordan? It wasn’t until the first Gulf War when ignorance turned into racism. My father – who’s a physician – lost a lot of his patients because people didn’t want to support an Arab doctor. We got death threats on a daily basis. And the secret service even visited my high school because of a tip that they got that my 17 year-old sister allegedly threatened to kill the president. I was 14 years old at the time and actually lost a lot of my friends, that’s how ostracized we were. When a so-called friend came up to me at my locker one day and said, “my brother could go to war and die because of you,” I knew it had gone too far. I knew that I needed to try to do something about it. But not only is the film loosely based on what happened to my family in 1991, my family members also inspire the characters in the film. In fact, the main character Muna is inspired by my Aunt who immigrated to the U.S. with her teenaged son in 1997. What struck me about my aunt was her attitude. She was so full of hope and optimism, despite the daily challenges that she faced. She was so trusting of people that she unknowingly disarmed them. Even people who didn’t want to like her or would have otherwise been suspicious of her couldn’t help but ultimately fall in love with her. It’s this quality that inspired Muna. When I sat down to write the script, I kept thinking: If more people were like my aunt, the world would be a better place. Continue reading