Gender Issues in Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi’s film Badis
By Noureddin El Khayaty
Morocco World News
Fez, January 23, 2013
Before discussing gender issues in the film, I think it will be important to present a few details about Badis, the village, and Badis the movie. Badis is a small village near the city of Al Hoceima in the north of Morocco. It is inhabited by a small number of people, who are very conservative and traditional in their daily life. Life is very calm in the village and people respect each other a lot. Many of the men in the village are fishermen.
Women do the housework, and girls do not go to school but they get prepared to be housewives since their childhood. Women do not commingle with men, except in rare occasions. It is impossible for a local woman to have a love affair with a foreigner, let alone with a colonizer. Such relationships are considered as taboos, which the villagers do not talk about. When Abderrahman Tazi told the villagers about the love story between the Spanish soldier and the girl from the village in his film, they were shocked, and warned him not to film any of the women from the village. For them, that would be a scandal. It is impossible to happen.
The fort in the village is a Spanish colony. It is still occupied by Spain, and it was used as a prison for the political opponents of the Spanish General Franco. The film, Badis, which is one of the most interesting Moroccan movies, was produced in 1989. This period witnessed the beginning of the promotion of the discourse on women; liberating women from patriarchal society, and the role of women as participants, along with men, in society. In the 1990s, feminism in Morocco started to appear, introducing gender studies, and the promotion of women issues. Moroccan cinema has been looking for ways to liberate women. Badis can be incorporated within such movies. It represents an attempt by Moroccan cinema to liberate women.
Gender studies focuses on both genders and their relations to each other. It closely examines the role that the biological state of being male or female has on social constructs of gender. The movie Badis exposes the issue of gender within colonial and post-colonial Moroccan contexts. Gender is manifested in the movie through the issues of patriarchy and male society. Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi presents to the viewer his own representation of the complexity of Moroccan women’s experience. The film highlights women’s oppression under male dominance, and their search for agency and liberation. It is also a confirmation of patriarchy in the Moroccan society. Women are related to the private spheres and are represented only as housewives. However, the movie shows that the complexity of Moroccan gendered society does not accept such calls for women’s emancipation and, therefore, the punishment can be severe.
Badis tells the story of two women oppressed by patriarchal society, and who rebel against their treatment and consequently receive the severe punishment of stoning. From the very beginning, the viewer gets the impression that the village is a world of men, where women are only concerned with domestic roles. During the first part of the movie, one notices how women are oppressed by men. On the one hand, Moira is oppressed by her father, the fisherman Ba Abdellah, who not only keeps her inside the house alone, but also treats her in a very bad way, insulting her, and preventing her from dancing and singing. She lives in a repressive environment imposed on her by her father. She only does housework like baking, cooking, and cleaning.
Like the rest of the girls in the village, she receives no education, despite the fact that she speaks Spanish fluently, which she has learnt from her Spanish mother. Moira’s mother, who does not appear in the film, escaped to Spain simply because she could not resist living in such a patriarchal world and with such an oppressive husband.
On the other hand, Touria, the teacher’s wife, is no better than Moira. She suffers from her husband’s bad treatment. He accuses her of being unfaithful to him while they were in Casablanca (which she denies and explains that it only takes place in his imagination). He brings her with him to this small village, where he has total control over her. He keeps insulting her and threatening to make her suffer. He says addressing her “I am going to kill you little by little, for the way you made me suffer.”
Thus, women in Badis not only suffer from inequality with men, but are considered as objects upon which men have total control. All the women in the movie appear to enjoy freedom when men are not around. Moira sings and dances flamenco while her father is not home; Touria feels more comfortable when her husband is not home too, and the café owner is having total freedom because her husband is abroad.
Men’s oppression leads Moira and Touria to become good friends and to exchange their secrets. Touria openly confesses to Moira that she hates her husband, and the way he treats her. Touria starts teaching Moira Arabic, but only when her husband is at home. When he is not home, Moira teaches Touria the flamenco dance. Both of them enjoy their time singing and dancing. When Moira starts seeing the Spanish soldier, she tells Touria about all what happens between them. Moira falls in love with the Spanish soldier and the two lovers start meeting everyday at dawn near the well and spend at least half an hour together. Moira finds a sort of freedom in her secret encounters with the Spanish soldier.
The postman discovers their secret and sells them out to the teacher, who informs the villagers that the Spanish soldier urinates in the water as a pretext to prevent him from seeing Moira. Consequently, the soldier is replaced by another one, and Moira is separated from her lover. This, of course, upsets Moira and increases her suffering. Accordingly, Moira and Touria, unable to bear any more the injustice practiced on them, decide to escape to the Spanish colony and meet Moira’s lover, the Spanish soldier. However, the postman again sells them out and the whole village starts looking for them. Finally, the two women are caught and brought to the village, where they are stoned until death.
The ending of the movie is very pessimistic because it implicitly shows that women can never escape from patriarchal society. The ending contradicts women’s right for liberation because it shows that women who are looking for freedom only bring destruction to themselves. It also reflects the cruelty of patriarchal society in punishing women who attempt to break the norms or men’s made rules.
Running away is a violation of the patriarchal rules, which invokes men’s rage. If one takes into consideration the conservative environment of the people living in that village, one will realize that it is impossible for the man to accept his wife again after she attempts to escape. Escaping with a Westerner/colonizer is a sin that can not be forgiven. This shows the impossibility of any sort of reconciliation between these women and their families. Moreover, escaping to the Spanish fort is not a solution because it could lead to another form of exploitation. The women try to escape from patriarchal prison to a military prison.
The final scene has received a lot of criticism, especially from feminists and pro-feminists that sympathize with the two women, and do not appreciate the stoning scene at the end of the movie. They prefer a happy ending which would grant the two women their liberty, instead of brutally killing them. Both Fatima Mernissi and Farida Benlyazid criticized the ending of the movie. Mernissi said that the ending is “absurd and horrible” and that the movie “shoud not have ended in that defeatist, pessimistic manner, because the film was made at a time when Moroccan women were starting to take their lives into their own hands.” . Benlyazid’s opinion was also negative; she said that women have many more resources to use in their struggle for liberation than what is shown in the film.
Tazi, however, explains that this is the perfect ending to the film. In his interview with Kevin Dwyer in Beyond Casablanca, Tazi explains that one of his aims in this ending was to ring the alarm. He says “I was sounding an alarm that if we didn’t stand up to that kind of obscurantism […] we could end up with events of the same nature.” He is convinced that this is the ending the film needed. Tazi could not imagine any other ending than this tragic one. He says: “I am very attached to that ending. I knew it was brutal. But here I couldn’t imagine a ‘happy end’ […] The women couldn’t escape” . When the film was produced, it was projected for the villagers of Badis, who were very unhappy and angry because Tazi did not reflect the reality of their life. Therefore, they also criticized the movie because such a relationship between a local woman and foreigner, or a colonizer, would never happen in their village. Therefore, the movie has nothing to do with their real life.
To sum up, Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi’s movie, Badis, is one of the best early Moroccan movies which treat the issue of women’s oppression and suffering from patriarchal society, and their attempt to shake the status quo and to defy men’s made rules. Badis is a very complex film because of the themes that it discusses like patriarchy, mixed-marriage, women’s struggle for liberty, the continuity of colonialism …etc. The movie shows Tazi’s sympathy for the oppressed women and their need for liberation. However, at the end of the film, he is being realistic; he shows the impossibility of such liberation in a strong patriarchal society during the period the movie was produced.
 Kevin Dwyer. Beyond Casablanca: M.A. Tazi and the Adventure of Moroccan Cinema. (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2004) P, 190.
Noureddin El Khayaty is Cultural Studies Master Student, Dhar Mehraz, University of Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah, Fez.
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed