By Meriame Achemlal
Oujda – Moroccan cinema has portrayed females in different ways. Apart from the exploitation of the female body in Moroccan cinema, many films represent women in a positive way as militants, social activists and rebellious. We can take as examples: Kherboucha, Jawhara, Atach.
Females and political activism
Hamid Zoughi gives an alternative image to Moroccan women in his movie Kherboucha, produced in 2010. In this movie, the actress Houda Sedqi plays the role of a Sheikha called Hada and known as Kherboucha. Kherboucha used to be a mythical character in the region of Abda in the late 19th century.
After killing all the members of her tribe, Kherboucha stands up to the despotic rule of Lkaid and calls for a rebellion against him and his totalitarian regime. In this movie, Zoughi succeeds in changing the stereotypical image about Sheikhat in our culture, as he depicts the sheikha as a good rebellious woman who fights to avenge genocides committed on her family and tribe.
Zoughi chooses to tackle the issue of females and their contribution to resisting the power of the Makhzen. He uses a woman’s voice and meaningful songs as a sign of resistance. In order to retrieve the rights of her tribe and to face the tyranny of the ruler, Kherboucha composes a song in which she recounts the story of her tribe and how the Kaid and his followers exterminated them.
The story turns around the use of the female voice and songs not as an erotic object, but rather as a way to uncover the atrocities and the crimes committed by Lmakhzen.The movie ends in a tragic way by Kherboucha being buried alive after she refused to consent to the laws of Lkaid.
From Kherboucha’s story which goes back to the late 19th century, we move to Jawhara’s story on the years of Lead and how women were part of the political opposition at that time. Jawhara was directed by Saad Chraibi in 2003, starring Mouna Fetto. This movie tells and depicts the suffering of women in prison and it was the first film to visually deal with this issue on screen.
The story of the movie is a fusion of the past with the present. It is based on storytelling of the past with some flashbacks. The story is told by Jawhara when she is older, and she retells her autobiography, her memories of the past and the life she had with her mother in prison. The movie starts by her voice stating that she wants to write the story of her mother Safia.
Safia was a young woman married to a political militant and involved in a political oppositional movement. The story takes place in the seventies of the last century and it draws attention to the political activists in the years of Lead.
Safia and her husband were performing a play that sheds light on political detention and the questions of forced disappearances in Morocco. Thus, they were arrested with all the members of their group. She was sent to prison where she was tortured physically and psychologically. She was also subjected to rape and sexual harassment by the police. Safia discovered that she is pregnant and she had no other choice except giving birth to her child Jawhara in prison and continuing her life in confinement.
In the two cases of Hada in Kherboucha and Safia in Jawhara, filmmakers depict scenes of torture and suffering of women in order to show to viewers that Moroccan women are strong enough to bear physical and psychological suffering. Women in Jawhara and Kherboucha play a significant role in resisting the despotic regime and being part of the resistance. This depiction of women contributes to changing traditional ideas about females as passive and docile. Moreover, it helps society to recognize the role of women in the construction of our Moroccan history.
Women between the local culture and the Western culture
The image of women is not constrained to these two types; we can find many other representations of Moroccan women in movies. Many other films focus on the emancipation of women and how they are torn between two worlds, the modern world and the traditional world. As in the case of Bab Sma Meftouh or Door to the sky, directed by Farida Belyazid in 1988, the story is about a young girl returning home from France and starting a quest for her real identity. Nadia the protagonist of the movie is caught between two cultures, the French culture, as it is obvious in her way of dress and the way she behaves, and her Islamic Moroccan culture that she seeks to discover throughout the movie.
When Nadia returned home, she was completely Western, in her manners and physical appearance. After the death of her father she starts her journey to look for her identity as she begins to learn the Koran and she becomes a member of a Sufi brotherhood. Nadia the mystical character finds relief and peace by adopting a new life based on Islamic rules. She devotes her house to become a Zawya and a shelter for desperate women.
Farida Belyazid tries to depict the reality of women and the situation of “hybridity” in which they live, between the local culture and the global one, and between Islam and the secularist ideas of the West. She also covers an essential aspect of Moroccan culture, which is women’s involvement in the Zawayas and the Sufi brotherhoods. Belyazid chooses to end with Nadia who finally finds herself and her roots and succeeds to sever all ties with the Western world. Thus she overcomes her hybrid situation, realizes her real culture and discovers her true identity.
In this regard we can talk also about Badis, a movie directed by Tazi produced in 1988 in the same year of Door to the Sky. The screenplay was written by Belyazid. The story of the movie begins with a teacher and his wife leaving Casablanca towards a remote area in Elhoceima called Badis, in which the Spanish colonizers still occupy a small part of the region. The story turns around a Riffian girl who lives with her father after her Spanish mother abandoned them. Moera and the teacher’s wife become friends and decide to escape from the patriarchal society to colonized Morocco, since Moera was in love with a Spanish soldier who promised her to help her finding her mother.
Badis illustrates the situation of females in rural areas and their suffering from the male dominant society. The film remains controversial because the two women find nowhere to escape except to the colonizer’s territory, and when they are caught they are lapidated to death as a punishment for their alignment with the colonial authorities and as punishment for their rebellion against the social status quo, since they were considered as traitors and as a stigma to their society.
To conclude I would like to say that Moroccan filmmaking have dealt with the situation of women in several ways and have provided a wide range of images about women. Those movies have a social realist touch because they tackle contemporary issues in our society and help the society to make social progress by realizing the weaknesses and the pitfalls in our social structures. I tried to discuss the most essential representations of women in our national cinema and the way filmmakers tackle this issue and deal with women in their cinematic productions.
Edwards Brain T. Disorienting America’s Maghreb, From Morocco Bound Casablanca to Marrakesh Express, (North Carolina: Duke University Press: 2005)
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, eds., Film Theory and Criticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)
Orlando, Valerie. Francophones Voices of the New Morocco in Film and Print: (Re)presenting a Society in Transition (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009)
Meriame Achemlal is a first year PhD student at the Faculty of Letters and humanities, Oujda. Her PhD thesis is entitled “A Comparative Study of Moroccan Male and Female Prison Writings.” She holds a master’s degree in Cultural Studies from Sidi Mohammed Benabdelah University, Faculty of Letters and Humanities, Dher Lmehraz, Fez.
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