Arab women in cinema

Arab women in cinema

4.2 Cinema

This section is a continuation to the previous one but this time the aim is show the representation of Arab women in cinema. But before going deep into this, it would be useful to have an idea first about cinema itself and its relation to women. Cinema can be regarded as an industrialized art that is used to generate money, like all kinds of media.

Geoffrey Nowell-Smith defined cinema in the introduction of his book The Oxford History of World Cinema (1996) saying alt is the great unresolved equation between art and industry. It was the first, and is arguably still the greatest, of the industrialized art forms which have dominated the cultural life of the twentieth centurya (Smith, 1996, p. xix). This shows that cinema has penetrated people as lives and became a part of them that is not easy to overcome.

In its beginnings, cinema was found only in a handful of countries such as France, USA, Germany, and Britain, and then it knew its way outside, attracting a great number of viewers all over the world.

French and American pioneers were the first exporters of this new technology outside like for instance Japan, china and Russia and they were also the ones who developed it along with other countries such as Denmark and Italy (Smith, 1996). All of this shows that cinema is a Western product and that it is new in the Arab context.

Cinema is known for is its representation even from the age of colonialism, which can be regarded as giving a certain group of people a specific image that might be positive or negative which is always the case.

According to Robert Stam and Louis Spencer in their article a Colonialism, Racism and the Representationa cinema came when colonialism was at its peak the reason why the colonized world is well stereotyped by this industry (Stam Spencer, 2004). Thus, cinema offers a racist ideology. To link it to the Arab world one can say that the cinema coincided with a very patriarchal society that is why the Arab media is in some way sexist.

In addition to the stereotyping of the colonized world in the cinema in its beginning, there is also the stereotyping of the women as well. In her article aVisual Pleasure and Narrative Cinemaa, Laura Mulvey believes that Hollywood cinema had been created for the pleasure of men since the woman is objectified through the scopophilia which is a Pleasure in using another person as an object of sexual stimulation through sighta (Mulvey, 1989, p.18).

Hence the woman here, who is referred to in the quotation as another persona, is used as a sexual object to please the male viewer who is the bearer of the look. The article then places the sexual pleasure at its center.

The same idea has been carried out elsewhere by Barbara Creed in her book Media Matrix: Sexing the new reality when she quotes Mulvey. In her words a As the film began to tell complex stories, the gaze of the spectator becomes more voyeuristic, particularly as the female body was placed on exhibistic displaya (Creed, 2003, p.17).

The focus then is always on womanas body, sexualising her and reducing her to be no more than a sexual pleasure even behind a TV screen. In this respect, womenas sexuality is at the very centre of cinema.

In fact, there is a huge difference between the way women are portrayed in movies and the way men are portrayed, since the womenas image is always cantered on their appearance and attraction, whereas men on their manhood and strength.

Moreover, they are always shown as incapable, lost and weak who are in need of a male to rescue them. According to Sharon Smith (1999): aEven when a woman is the central character she is generally shown as confused or helpless and in danger, or passive, or as a purely sexual beinga (Smith, 1999, pp. 14-15). Women are hardly given a real positive image as independent, strong and self- reliant.

Sue Tuchman is a well-known figure in the field of media and its relation to women. She believes that women are exploited in cinema and this is the major cause of their derogatory images in movies. For her the male figures are the ones to be blamed; they should be hold responsible for such a thing that needs a struggle to be ended. This is all well clarified in the following passage from her article a Feminism and Filma:

The struggle begins on all fronts and we are taking up the struggle with women as image in film and women as role in the film industry- the ways in which we are exploited and the ways to transform the derogatory and immoral attitudes the ruling class and their male lackeys (sic) have towards women and other oppressed people. (Tuchman, 2001, p.93)

This leads to another idea which is the fact that women are treated unequally with men when it comes to film industry. They occupy little jobs and they are given inappropriate images within films as it is the case in journalism and in the hierarchal structure of media as a whole. Tuchman quotes one editor saying:

Women, the editor goes on, are oppressed within the film industry (they are receptionists, secretaries, odd job girls, prop girlsa, etc); they are oppressed by being packaged as images (sex objects, victims or vampires); and they are oppressed within film theory, by male critics who celebrate directors like Hitchcock or Stirk for their complexity or irony. (Tuchman, 2001, p.95)

This is more or less the same as in the Arab world as it is already shown in the second chapter of this paper, women are still sidelined from being active agents in the film industry. Cinema then is one of the carriers of the negative portrayal of women, as sexual objects and the main reason, as it is argued by some, is the fact that women have not really reached a high position to be able to change this situation, but the questions which remain controversial is do we have a good image of women in films directed by women? Does the fact that women have reached such positions change the same old equation? Or is their existence as directors is no more than a continuation of the status quo?

4.2.1 Synopsis of the plot

In this section a movie will be put under the light as a case study in order to prove what has been stated in the second chapter about women and their stereotypical portrayal in the Arab visual media.

The aim behind this analysis is to show that women in the Arab cinema are given very distorting images which leads to another idea, that the Arab or the Eastern visual media is, like the written one, is in a desperate need to offer a positive role model where the women will be shown as positive and useful for her society.

El ouyoun el Jafa is a movie by the Moroccan filmmaker Narjis Najar in which the image of women can be tackled. It was shot in 2003 in an isolated Berber village in the Atlas Mountain in Morocco whose name is Tizi.

The story tells of the a village of prostitutes and it starts with the release of a former prostitute Mina (Raouia) after 25 years in prison; she was driven to her village by Fahed (Khalid Benchakra) who pretend to be her son to be able to enter the village since only clients are allowed in when the moon is full.

As the story enfolds, Fahed falls in love with Halla (Siham Assif), the revolutionist leader of the tribe. Hala is a strong emotionless woman who imposes her own desires; she does not recognize her mother Mina, though old women do, as she left her when she was only 8 months old.

Hala ordered all old women to live isolated hiding themselves behind the mountains and to let only young girls down to be able to carry on their work which is prostitution. She also asked every woman who give birth to a baby to throw him or her since she does not want them to live sad lives like their mothers.

Zinba (Rafika Belhaj) is Halaas daughter, a young girl who symbolizes the future generation of these women; she was pushed by her mother to lose her virginity in the traditional way according to the customs of the tribe. Mina came to the village after 25 years of absence to change their reality, to offer them jobs as weavers instead of prostituting themselves.

She struggles a lot with Hala who refused first and then finally allowed women doing so with no interest herself in the work. Finally Hala fell in love with Fahed and left with him along with her daughter whereas Mina succeeded in her mission, for she and the other women stayed and worked as weavers and stopped prostitution.




Figure 4.6: The red flags that symbolize womenas loss of virginity.

4.3 Analysis of the movie

Perhaps the first thing to draw the attention of the viewer is the red flags in the entrance of the village that symbolizes prostitution and loss of virginity. Women in this village are given the image of prostitutes who sell their bodies, or, in other words, their sexualities to live.

Mina was looking at the red flags; the same tradition that she left them with years ago has not changed. There is also the notion of exploitation, but the question here is whether women exploit their male clients who come to the village or vice verse. In both cases women are the losers, if they exploit, then, another bad image is given to them as exploiters and if they are the ones exploited, they are victimized which is also negative.

Women are also given the image of murderers since they kill their own children who symbolise purity, innocence and hope even. Birth symbolizes hope and change and killing these children can be seen as killing any ray of hope to change the lives of these women for the better.

Halla did not only kill her own children but also pushed other women to do the same and they have nothing to do but to follow her orders which implies another thing which is cruelty. Women can be inhuman, cruel with no emotions whatsoever. In fact Halaas cruelty is shown not only in her acts but also in her look even, in the black colour she wears and also in the animalistic look she is given that makes her far from being human.




Figure 4.7: Halla is telling Mina that she has thrown her own babies alive.

The protagonistas cruelty is symbolized in the sentence she told Fahed: aMy eyes are dry and so is my hearta. This is to tell him that he has no place in her heart, that there is no possibility to love him and to be loved by him. The eyes and the heart are used to be a place of tenderness, love, and sacrifice, but in the case of Halla they are a place of hatred, and especially men hatred and revolution.

The girl Zinba symbolizes the future generation of the females in the tribe; she was forced by the protagonist to enter the game unwillingly and to be made a woman before the time comes. She was playing as any girl of her age, but when it was time, according to Halla, she was obliged to live everything behind.

According to the tradition of the tribe, the girl has to draw on her face the Berber drawings to be considered a woman so as to be ready for the night. The night starts with a ceremony in which women dance and men spend the night with them until the next day. This means that the event is well organized and women are well prepared for such a ritual.

After being raped, the girl went outside to put her own red piece of cloth that symbolizes her loss of virginity, but in fact it symbolizes her rape. Zinba did not really refuse the fact of being a prostitute, she just reacted in crying and hugging Fahed, but Halas power was over her desire.

This shows the power that tradition has over logic; it also shows Halla as prostituting a child which is in the words of today, a crime against humanity. So Halla has all the stigmas in the movie.

At the end, a man is shown as a hero who saved the whole village even if it is indirectly. He is the one who brought Mina who symbolizes a turning point in the history of the tribe; she is the one who brought them to work and not to sell their bodies, and he is the one who made Halla open her eyes after blaming her for all the

Figure 4.8: The girl Zinba is crying after being raped. negative things happening in the village. He accepted her as she is and took her on his motorcycle to a better future for both of them along with her daughter Zinba. So as usual a man was made a hero who saved the woman who was in danger. The closure is classical and conventional.




Figure 4.9: Zinba is tying up her red piece of cloth.

The fact that the tribe was led by a woman who ruined everything is also telling. As if to say that women are not capable of ruling and when given a position like this they destroy rather than build. That is why she needed a man to rescue her at the end and to show her the right path.

So to conclude this analysis, one has to say that this is a movie where the woman is given a negative image, as a prostitute, inhuman, murderer, cruel, lost and also incapable.

One might ask the following question: does this movie solve a social dilemma, look critically at it, or just show facts? It might be stated that the story is no more than a narrative, showing a social ill that exists in all societies which is prostitution, but also it adds to it more complex portrayal of women. It does not absolutely offer a choice or a strategy to avoid such a destiny but rather shows problematic images of women.




Figure 4.10: Fehed, Halla and Zinba are looking for a better future outside.

4.4 Conclusion

Deeply concerned with women and their portrayal in media, this paper has tried to shed light on the way Arab women are portrayed in the Eastern media in its different formats, the written and the visual.

Although it is hard to trace the entire Arab world, one can base his/ her conclusion on this work saying that Arab women are still misrepresented, underestimated and negatively portrayed by the Arab media. However, after dealing closely with the subject, one might be optimistic enough to say that something positive is likely to happen in some Arab courtiers, examples might be those Egyptian newspapers that claim to be a source of empowerment for women as well as the two Moroccan feminist magazines in addition to the Arab TV channel Al Jazeera.

This paper has showed that sexism is not only shown in terms of orality or acts, but also in terms of visuality as well. In fact, the visual media in the Arab context, especially television, is very much misogynist to women which is worse since this type of media is exposed to everybody, no matter how he or she is literate or illiterate, rich or poor, young or old.

In this respect, the visual media in the Arab world is in need to be ameliorated more than the written one which is directed to a specific group of people, normally the intellectuals. This eliminates another group who are illiterate and who might be even poor enough to be unable to buy newspapers and magazines.

Tracing the Arab media as whole and Arab women is a hard task to be accomplished but this paper has tried through giving examples from different contexts to make things clear. This does not mean the exclusion of other contexts but just to limit down, and hopefully the paper has somehow put both Arab media and the representation of Arab women in it under full light and also have reached its aims stated in the very beginning.

In this paper, the images or the portrayal of Arab women in the Arab media have been explored through giving examples from different countries as well as analyzing different images from both the written and the visual media in the Arab world.

This study, however, is not to condemn certain representations as negative or sexist, but rather to spread awareness about their existence to be able to deconstruct and analyze them. This kind of criticism makes of us resisting readers or viewers and raise awareness among us about a very problematic issue, that of the images of Arab women in the Eastern written and visual media.

This work is divided into three chapters; the first is theoretical, about media theories with an attempt to acquire media literacy and to have an idea how the mass media operate. The second chapter then is concerned with Arab women- interaction; it gives first an idea about women and media in general as to put the reader in the framework of the paper and then it moves to its goal. The last chapter is analytical, taking Morocco as a case study to clarify what has been stated about the image of Arab women in the Arab media.

Pour citer ce mémoire (mémoire de master, thèse, PFE,...) :
📌 La première page du mémoire (avec le fichier pdf) - Thème 📜:
Image of Arab women in The Eastern print And Visual media
Université 🏫: Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University - Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences Dhar Mehraz-Fez
Auteur·trice·s 🎓:
Dr. Lalla Aicha Sidi Hamou

Dr. Lalla Aicha Sidi Hamou
Année de soutenance 📅: Department of English - Master program - 2008-2019
Télécharger ce mémoire en ligne PDF (gratuit)

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