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.