By Sarah Introna
By Sarah Introna
Morocco World News
New Jersey, January 21, 2013
Before moving to New York City to pursue a career in film industry, Yossera Bouchtia, a Moroccan-American filmmaker, participated in the Miss Arab USA pageant, held in Arizona on 6 November 2010, that later inspired her to make a documentary about the pageant and the women vying for the crown.
“Back in college, my mom came to visit me,” Bouchtia recalled. “She had this crazy idea that she got from a commercial about a beauty pageant…they offer scholarship money and it was a great chance. So, I applied.”
Bouchtia went through two rounds before being selected as part of the 20 women that would be in the first Miss Arab USA pageant.
“Part of the requirements was that you had to be fluent in Arabic and your father at the time had to be from one of the Arab league countries,” Bouchtia said.
The now 24-year–old Virginia native wasn’t disappointed when the scholarship money was no longer part of the competition.
“They told us we’re sorry, but the winner isn’t going to get the scholarship anymore, so I was then mainly just focusing on the experience itself and how the other girls were experiencing it because they were super into it,” said the Brooklyn resident. “I just started paying attention to them and why they were there, their motives, their families, and their backgrounds.”
Already in its third year, the Miss Arab USA pageant was created by Arab American Association President Ashraf Elgamal to project a positive image of Arabs similar to the main motive behind Bouchtia’s film.
“What we really wanted to do was to examine the identity of being an Arab immigrant and being a female living in that identity. Also, that was the first time I started meeting Arabs that weren’t Muslim,” Bouchtia admitted.
Islam is the religion commonly associated with Arabs, but Christianity and Judaism are also followed by a good majority of Arabs around the world.
Like Miss America, the contestants are well-rounded young women with various talents and educational backgrounds. The winner of the 2012 pageant, Suzanne Ziad Aslam, is a 26-year-old human rights advocate and aspiring actress from Scottsdale, Arizona. She is of Palestinian descent. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international human rights with a minor in Spanish from Webster University.
Bouchtia and her producer traveled two days before last year’s pageant with just her Cannon 7D and her zoom mic, but Bouchtia hopes to raise money for a professional film crew to document Aslam’s life up until the start of this year’s pageant in June.
“There were so many moments that we missed because we didn’t have the camera on. We didn’t have enough bodies holding a camera. We didn’t have enough sound equipment, so the money is essential for hiring the full crew and taking it to post production and finally sharing it in film festivals and also possibly TV. PBS showed interest, but they want a final product,” she said.
Unlike Miss America, there aren’t any body restrictions and their isn’t a swimsuit competition, and headscarves worn mostly by Muslim females are allowed in the competition.
“I thought that was so different and so unique and kind of inspiring. They weren’t trying to showcase specifically beauty like the perfection of beauty,” Boutchia said. “They were like your average girls in all shapes and sizes and I’ve never really seen that anywhere else,” she added.
A very American thing to do, according to Bouchtia, beauty pageants can sometimes clash with religious or Arab traditions.
“There was this one woman from Lebanon originally. She lives in Michigan and she was a model and, I kid you not, she had everything augmented from her lips…her cheeks to her breasts and yet her mother and her sister came to support her all the way from Michigan to Arizona and they were in the full niqab (the full covering of a woman that only allows the eyes to be seen) and I thought oh my gosh, how does this work? How does this happen?” Bouchtia said.
The Miss Arab USA pageant represents a young generation of Arabic women who are choosing their own futures and representing a change within the Arab community in the United States.
“They have this opportunity in this pageant to kind of voice their opinion about who they are and where they come from. I think there are all these changes that are happening as Arabs and the Arab world are moving away from tradition and I think this is a good example of it,” Bouchtia said.
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