Bloggin’ Banat

two arab-american chicks takin’ over the blogosphere

Turning 30 is Like Running Against the Clock January 9, 2010

This was originally posted on Kabobfest.

It must have been a coincidence.  I happened to come across a television show, a movie and a conversation with a friend all having to do with being female, being thirtyish and having something missing or looking for something in life.  It was like God was trying to tell me something.

A couple of weeks ago I was watching episodes of Ally McBeal on DVD.  Season 4 to be exact.  It was a show that I used to watch back in the late nineties (seems so long ago now) which I really enjoyed.  The ongoing theme of the show was that Ally McBeal, a successful lawyer, was always searching for love…for the guy.  I can’t quite remember if she ever did find the guy at the series end but she did come pretty close in season 4.  Anyway, Ally’s search wouldn’t be significant to me if it wasn’t for the fact that her age was always an issue in relevance to her pursuit of love.  I think she was 31 in season 4. Well, I haven’t found the guy yet either and I also happen to be 31.

Later, I rented and watched the film Julie & Julia about the true stories of Chef Julia Child and Julie Powell. Julie Powell is a married woman who was about to turn 30 and disliked her job.  So she decided to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in a year and blog about it. Since she’s an aspiring writer, it was an opportunity for her to do two things that she loved; cook and write. Well, her blog turned out to be a big hit and she’s now a published author. The movie is based on her book.  I identified with the age issue again and wanting to already be doing something I love career-wise but not having reached that point yet.

Then last week it all kind of came together when I went to visit a good friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in a long time. Among the various conversations we had, one was referencing Ally McBeal: the idea of us being in our thirties, having “big girl” jobs now and how it seemed like such a long ways away when we were in our teens. Yet, here we were.  We talked about some of the unhappy circumstances at our jobs that were uncannily similar.  We also discussed our ambitions for doing greater things that didn’t include sitting at a desk.

Regarding all of this, the most prominent factor for me is age.  Turning 30 was a big deal, and not in a good way, for Ally and Julie. It was also the same for me.  Being in my thirties, I now feel like I am running against the clock.  For example, as if being a single Arab girl at my age isn’t difficult enough, since the prime age for marriage is between 18-22 (people probably think there’s something ‘wrong’ with me), it also seems that all the good men around my age are already taken or previously married, which means they come with some sort of baggage.  Not only that, but I’m on the verge of what most people would perceive as spinster status.  I shudder at the thought.

Next comes the issue of work and what I really want to do with my life.  In college I decided to become a communications major because I figured it was the only rational way for an Arab Muslim girl like me to get into the entertainment industry.  Well, before I graduated, the second intifada came around and my focus went into a different direction. Now I still have that fierce desire to enter the entertainment world, as I did before I graduated, but I am waiting and hoping for an opportunity to knock on my door.  Again, my age being a factor, I feel like that window of opportunity is getting narrower and narrower minute by minute.

It’s not that I suddenly felt old when I turned 30.  Quite the contrary, I feel like I’m still in my early twenties and I act like I’m even younger sometimes.  But besides the fact that my biological clock is ticking away, I think the pressures I feel are societal.  And I’m not talking about finding love or pursuing a career I’ve dreamed about as being the societal pressures.  Those are things that I want.  It’s the aging factor that’s the problem. This pressure about age is not an internal concern but something that I believe society places on women.  Because let’s face it, do most guys go through all of this emotional crap? No, because they generally don’t face these problems.  For example, a man can choose the single life, never marry and be considered a cool cat like George Clooney.  And most women who enter and have success in the entertainment industry, like actresses for example, tend to be in their late teens and early twenties.  Women in their thirties are perceived to be on the verge of a decline in their career.  Even producers usually get their start right out of college.  There are always exceptions, of course.

Being in my thirties doesn’t suck. I just feel that my opportunities in life are diminishing as a result.  But I’m not giving up hope. My future outlook is like a candle. Sometimes it’s brightly lit and other times the light is so dim that it almost fades.  But, it never diminishes.  And I hope it doesn’t anytime soon. I guess I can look at Julia Child’s life as an example and see that she found love at 40 and soon thereafter pursued her passion of cooking as well as published her now classic French cookbook. I just hope I don’t have to wait that long cause turning 40 would be like dying.

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New Film In The Works Has Interesting Components March 24, 2009

julian_schnabel1Julian Schnabel,who directed the wonderful Oscar nominated film “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” will be directing a new film called “Miral”. What’s interesting is that “Miral” is based on a book of the same name written by Palestinian-Italian Rula Jebreal who also co-wrote the script.  Apparently, Jebreal, who lives in Italy, is a hugely popular broadcaster there and is outspoken on immigration and foreign affairs. I’m surprised I’ve never heard of her. The book is about Hind Husseini who attempts to open an orphanage (Dar El-Tifl), and eventually does, in Jerusalem after the war in 1948 and the struggles thereafter.

While I commend Schnabel for making this film ” to fix things over there . . . and make things better over there”, I think it’ll take a lot more than a film to do that.  However,  it’ll be nice to see a film about a Palestinian woman who took matters into her own hands to help orphaned children.  I hope that Schnabel won’t oversimplify the conflict in the process.

I do think this will be a promising movie.  Not only is it directed by Schnabel but it will also star the incomparable Hiam Abbas (“The Visitor”, “Pomegranates and Myrrh”) who makes any movie she’s in better.  Also starring in the film, and an interesting choice, is Freida Pinto.  She’s become the new “it” girl after the success of “Slumdog Millionaire” (great movie, btw).  I wish Pinto the best of luck because I don’t think she’ll be able to hold her own next to Abbass.  Casting hasn’t been completed yet but I’m sure “Miral” will get a wide release due to who’s directing it and starring in it.  Shooting for the film will begin next month in Israel and is scheduled to be released in 2010.

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My Take On “Pomegranates and Myrrh” (Al Mur Wa Al Rumman): A Palestinian Film March 16, 2009

pomegranatesmyrrhLast Friday I saw a screening of the Palestinian film Pomegranates and Myrrh (Al Mor Wa Al Rumman) at the Kennedy Center. It was part of the Center’s 3 week long Arabesque Festival.  The film is directed by Najwa Najjar, who was present at the screening.  This is how Najjar summarizes the film:

A free spirited woman dancer, Kamar, finds herself the wife of a prisoner, Zaid, and away from everything she loves until she returns to the dance, defying society’s taboos. At the dance Kamar is confronted with Kais, a Palestinian returnee, who has taken Kamar’s role as the head choreographer. Sparks fly between Kamar and Kais, creating more than a passionate, emotional dance for the both of them. Matters become even more complicated when Zaid’s sentence is extended. At the same time the family’s legal case against the land confiscation faces one obstacle after another and the villagers from the nearby villages are unable to reach the family’s olive groves, placing the annual harvest and consequently the family’s livelihood in danger. And Kamar’s life is thrown into turmoil as she becomes increasingly attached to Kais, and caught in the midst of her desire to dance and breaking the family and society taboos of the prisoner’s wife’s role while life under occupation rages on.

What I liked about this movie is that even though it portrays the struggles that Palestinians go through as a result of the Israeli occupation such as land confiscation, prison, checkpoints, curfews, etc., it was really a story about relationships.  It was refreshing to see a Palestinian film that portrays the love between a husband and wife and the struggles they go through. The relationship between Kamar and Kais surely adds spice to the story. Some people may object to the portrayal of such a relationship because they would say that it’s not indicative of the behavior of a prisoner’s wife. I say nobody’s perfect and even though we don’t hear about such relationships, it doesn’t mean that they don’t happen.  Plus, it makes for a good story so I didn’t mind it at all.  The film also has spectacular views of olive groves in the Ramallah area. Seeing those beautiful vistas makes you want to book a ticket to Palestine right away and be there.

The film has great performances, particularly by the fantastic Hiam Abbass (Paradise Now, The Visitor).  She provides some much appreciated comic relief in the film but also shows the true grit of Palestinian women. She’s just awesome!  Ali Suleiman (Paradise Now) and Yasmine Al Masri (Caramel) were good as well.  Ashraf Farah, who plays Zaid, was stunning. In fear of sounding like Paris Hilton, he was totally hot! But seriously, it’s his portrayal as the strong, loving man who loves his land as much as he loves his wife that is really attractive.  Hopefully, we’ll see more of him in films to come.

In conclusion, I loved the film!  I highly recommend it.  When Najjar was asked after the screening if the film will be distributed in the US, she said she hopes so. The film had been screened at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and had done pretty well.  As a result, there’s been some solid interest by a distributor but no deal has been made yet.  I hope the deal comes through so that everyone has the opportunity to go and see this great Palestinian film.

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Senator To Host Anti-Muslim Dutch MP February 24, 2009

Republican Senator Jon Kyl from Arizona will be hosting anti-Muslim Dutch politician Geert Wilders on Thursday.  Wilders will be screening his 17 minute film, Fitna, at the Capitol to members of Congress and their staff.  The screening is being co-sponsored by the neoconservative think thank, Center for Security Policy, led by Republican Frank Gaffney.  And it won’t be open to the media.  Gee, I wonder why?

So what’s wrong with this whole idea?  First of all, in the film, Wilders compares Islam to Nazism and calls the Quran a “fascist book.”  That’s enough reason right there to not hold this event.  Not only that, but Wilders also wants to ban the Quran completely. This from a man whose supporters say is a proponent of free speech.  Really?  Banning books is free speech?  And an American senator wants to listen to this crap?  That’s just wrong.

Senator Kyl’s spokesman put out a statement saying: “Senator Kyl understands the controversial nature of the film, Fitna, but agreed to facilitate the screening and Q & A with Mr. Wilders because he believes that, all too often, people who have the courage to point out the dangers of militant Islamists find themselves vilified and endangered.”  Okay, talking about militant Islam is fine. But, when someone vilifies over 1 billion people and the their holy book, that’s not fine. This guy has no place speaking in the Capitol.

Earlier this month, Wilders was banned from entering the UK because officials felt he would cause public unrest due to his views.  Now, I don’t think this guy should be banned from coming to the United States, but he sure as hell doesn’t deserve the opportunity to speak to members of Congress.  Even though he’s not my senator, I’ll be writing Jon Kyl a letter and giving him a piece of my mind.

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Jordan Wins First Emmy. Will Other Arab Countries Follow? November 25, 2008

The country of Jordan won an International Emmy Tuesday in a newly established telenovela category.  It was for the 2007 series Al-Igtiyah (The Invasion).  I’m sure the millions of Arabs who were glued to their televisions watching the Syrian series Bab el Hara (Door to the Neighborhood) are disappointed to hear that it wasn’t the one that won.  Seriously though, I find this noteworthy for a few reasons. First of all, for an Arab country to win an Emmy is pretty cool. It’s also appealing that it’s about a love story taking place during the Israeli invasion of Jenin in 2002.  And, to have an Arab series beat out two Latin American (Argentina, Brazil) and Russian ones in this category is pretty exceptional.


What I find disturbing however, is that according to a production source, the series was shown only on the LBC satellite channel because  the “other networks decided to ignore the series because of sensitivities related to Israel.”  What does it say when an international organization recognizes the work from an Arab country that Arab audiences don’t even get a chance to see?  The same could be said of the film Paradise Now.  It won numerous prestigious international awards, including the Golden Globe, but was largely unseen and not recognized in the Arab world (none of the awards Paradise Now was nominated for were from Arab countries).  That’s just sad.

Unfortunately, Palestinians themselves aren’t immune to this kind of thing either.  Earlier this year, the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) decided to pull the plug at the last minute on a homegrown Palestinian series called Matabb (Speed Bumps), about everyday life in Ramallah, because one PBC official thought that a scene in an episode described the PLO as corrupt. The producers rebutted that claim and the series was eventually aired.

Arab governments need to get over their “sensitivity” issues and embrace so-called controversial and non-traditional topics. There is a desire for it.  And what these broadcasters may view as controversial, the Arab public generally doesn’t.  If Arab broadcasters are willing to go there and air this kind of fresh material I am sure Arab viewers are willing to watch.  And that could lead to more global appeal and recognition in the future.

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Diddy wasn’t black enough. Thank God! November 18, 2008

Diddy apparently had auditioned for the role of black Sgt. Lincoln Osiris in Tropic Thunder but he got beat by a white guy-Robert Downey Jr.  I’m sure Ben Stiller, who directed and starred in the film, didn’t have to think long and hard on this one.  I mean, let’s face it. Diddy isn’t what you’d call a good actor (sorry Diddy). And Downey was genius in this role. There’s no way Diddy could have pulled off playing, as Downey’s character says in the movie, “the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude.”  Nope, sorry Diddy.  Maybe try concentrating on your music (it’s been pretty crappy lately). That way you can save your precious private jet fuel by not flying back and forth to LA and you won’t have to ask your “Saudi Arabian brothers and sisters” to send you some oil. Leave the acting to the people who actually have talent.

Tropic Thunder is out on DVD and it’s a hilarious movie.  Check it out.


Salt of This Sea November 17, 2008

Salt of This Sea is Palestine’s 2009 Academy Awards official submission to the Foreign-Language Film category.  It’s directed by Annemarie Jacir and stars Suheir Hammad, the well known Palestinian-American poet, as a woman who goes back to Palestine to reclaim her grandfather’s savings that were frozen in a bank in Jaffa when he was exiled in 1948.

This film has been roaming around the festival circuit but I don’t believe it’s been picked up for a wider release.   Hopefully it does gain some traction here in the US.