“Amira” may be the most controversial film presented in this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival—not for Madisonians necessarily but for Arab people and, especially, Palestinians. Written and directed by Egyptian Mohamed Diab whose previous films were about pressing socio-political issues in his country, and played mostly by Palestinian actors, the movie centers around two women.
Amira (Tara Abboud) is 15, one of more than one hundred Palestinian children born to men who have been sentenced to long-term, or life in prison by Israel, and who smuggled their semen out to their wives. She is spunky, self-assured, and respected by her community. Warda (Saba Mubarak) is Amira’s mother, who married the incarcerated Nuwar (Ali Suliman) in absentia, standing in her bridal suit next to his enlarged photo.
When the two visit Nuwar in the Israeli Megiddo prison (where a soldier asks Warda if she’s married “to that terrorist” and Amira replies “You mean freedom fighter”), he tells them of an opportunity to have another child. That is where things start going awry, eventually changing forever the lives of all three and those around them and turning a tight-knit community into a dangerous place.
There is very little daylight or bright lights in the film and those who are not imprisoned are often framed with fence-like structures surrounding them. There are many mirrors and photographs, where the characters fantasize of other lives and seem to try and understand who they are, their relationships, and how others see them.
It’s mostly a very good movie with some questionable twists toward the end—but these don’t take away from the weight of what is presented, and the way it is. The film has won six awards so far in various festivals.
And the controversy? The film has been the target of a pan-Arab social media campaign to reduce its rating and stop it from being shown because some people consider it offensive to Palestinian prisoners and undermining their ordeals by addressing the smuggling of sperm which offers them the opportunity to have children, an act that is understood by some as a show of resistance to the Israeli occupation.
Who’s right? That’s not for me to judge. Should you see the movie? Yes, absolutely.