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Views of Arab America

Added by Amyaz Moledina , last edited by Amyaz Moledina on Sep 19, 2011 15:02

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A film and discussion series

September 14, 21 and 27, 2011 at 7pm in Kauke Tower
Discussion leaders are  Dr's Mazen Naous and Travis Foster (English) and Dr Amyaz Moledina (CDGE/Economics)
Terrorists. Fundamentalists. Bad Americans. Such reductive and essentialist images of Arabs and Arab Americans are in dire need of rehabilitation. In their negotiation of seemingly incommensurate cultures, Arab Americans face challenges that complicate any reading of a singular Arab identity. In an effort to disperse stereotypes and further cross-cultural understanding, the CDGE is pleased to present viewings of three films that deal with the experiences of Arab Americans, real and imagined, followed by a discussion after each viewing.

Film One: Towelhead (106 mins)
Rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has scenes of sexual abuse of a young girl and clinical sexual talk.
Six Feet Under creator and American Beauty screenwriter Alan Ball makes his feature directorial debut with this screen adaptation of author Alicia Erian's controversial novel Towelhead. Jasira (Summer Bishil) is a 13-year-old Arab-American who's contending with the pains of adolescence when her life takes a sudden and unexpected turn. Sent to live with her stern Lebanese father, Rifat (Peter Macdissi), by her self-absorbed mother (Maria Bello), Jasira finds herself struggling to adjust to life in the suburbs while contending with racism and hypocrisy at every turn.

Rifat lives in a modest, suburban Houston home next to racist reservist Mr. Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart) and meddling expectant mother Melina (Toni Collette). Adjusting to life in the suburbs isn't easy for young Jasira, though she tries her hardest to adapt to the unfamiliar environment by striking up casual conversations with her curious new neighbors. In the process, Jasira finds herself increasingly attracted to hormone-driven African-American teen Thomas (Eugene Jones). When Rifat finds out that his daughter's new boyfriend is black, he vehemently condemns the relationship. As America launches its initial invasion of Iraq, Jasira finds herself caught up in a potentially explosive situation that is only compounded by her raging hormones and the snooping of her pregnant, busybody neighbor. (Synopsis reprinted from Fandongo.com)
NY Times review by Stephen Holden

Film Two: Amreeka (96 mins)
“Amreeka” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It includes some strong language.
 A Palestinian single mother and her son resettle in the American Midwest with bittersweet results, in first-time director Cherien Dabis' gentle fish-out-of-water comedy drama Amreeka. Nisreen Faour stars as divorcée Mouna, a resident of the West Bank who works as a local bank manager while raising her 16-year-old son, Fadi (Melkar Muallem), on the side. Each day, the two must put their lives in jeopardy by driving through potentially lethal Middle Eastern checkpoints to accomplish their daily business, but their situation changes dramatically when Mouna finally succeeds at getting a green card. The two fly from Jerusalem to Chicago, but get a bitter taste of the reality behind the American dream when the customs department claims the money that Mouna wrapped in a cookie tin, leaving her penniless. The nascent immigrants promptly move in with Mouna's sister, Raghda (Hiam Abbass of Lemon Tree), and her family, and Mouna sets about trying to find a bank job in the U.S. that is equivalent to her old position at home; unfortunately, this proves impossible and she ends up serving "sliders" at a White Castle fast food franchise and earning minimum wage. Meanwhile, Fadi begins attending a local high school and runs headfirst into not-so-subtle racism and the imminent threat of nativistic violence. (Synopsis reprinted from Fandango.com)
NY Times review by Stephen Holden
Interview

Film Three: I Exist (56 mins)
 Voices from the Lesbian & Gay Middle Eastern Community in the United States. I Exist is a 56-minute documentary exploring individual journeys of Lesbian and Gay people of Middle Eastern cultures living in the United States. The cultural and religious challenges that many Lesbian and Gay Middle Eastern people endure are unparalleled. This documentary shows the journey many take in learning how to join both their cultural heritage and sexual identity. Even with these challenges, stories of hope emerge and show that a family's love can always win over hatred and ignorance. (Synopsis reprinted from unlearninghomophobia.com)
Review by Heather Hackman

Some Further Reading and other Resources

Malek, Alia. A Country Called Amreeka: Arab Roots American Stories (2009). Free Press.

Bayoumi, Mustafa.  How does it feel to be a problem: Being young and Arab in America. (2009) Penguin.

Interview

Hidden Voices: The lives of LGBT Muslims 

Presentation

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