DALYA’S OTHER COUN­TRY

Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - SCREEN REVIEWS - Di­rec­tor: Ju­lia Meltzer { Jour­ney­man pic­tures }

When is the last time you watched a com­ing-of-age film about a Mus­lim girl from Syria? Con­sid­er­ing that rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Mus­lims and Arabs are sorely lack­ing and thought­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tion is even rarer—for most of us, the an­swer is never. For­tu­nately, Jewish film­maker Ju­lia Meltzer rec­og­nized this prob­lem and de­cided to do some­thing about it. Her hour-long doc­u­men­tary Dalya’s Other Coun­try pre­miered as part of PBS’S POV se­ries in June.

In 2012, Dalya and her par­ents were asleep in their home in Aleppo, Syria, when a bomb ex­ploded right out­side; the war had come to their back­yard. The fam­ily de­cided to flee the coun­try and split up since Dalya’s

par­ents’ mar­riage was al­ready un­rav­el­ing. Dalya and her mother, Ru­dayna, went to Los An­ge­les, Cal­i­for­nia, where Mustafa, Ru­dayna’s old­est son (and co­pro­ducer of the film), lived while her fa­ther went to Turkey. The doc­u­men­tary be­gins in 2013, shortly af­ter their ar­rival in Los An­ge­les. Dalya has just be­gun at­tend­ing an all-girls Catholic high school where she is the only Mus­lim and the only hi­jabi. The film traces her de­vel­op­ment through her teenage years and ends in 2016, right af­ter Dalya’s high school grad­u­a­tion, as she protests Trump’s Mus­lim ban at the Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

This film is a must-see for many rea­sons: It han­dles top­ics that are con­sid­ered taboo with­out sen­sa­tion­al­iz­ing them, in­clud­ing Dalya’s ex­pe­ri­ence of wear­ing a head­scarf; her par­ents’ tri­als with in­fi­delity and di­vorce; and what hap­pens to fam­i­lies and a coun­try as a re­sult of war. Dalya’s fam­ily is mid­dle­class and her mother is a U.S. ci­ti­zen, so their ex­pe­ri­ence is not that of most Syr­ian refugees. What I most ap­pre­ci­ate about the film is that it uses that to its ad­van­tage. It doesn’t try to be the voice of Mus­lim girls, but shows the ex­pe­ri­ence of one in par­tic­u­lar. In do­ing so, it chal­lenges the stereo­types that main­stream me­dia of­fer and re­minds peo­ple that there are many ways to be a Syr­ian Mus­lim woman.

An­other re­fresh­ing per­spec­tive is how the nar­ra­tive ex­plores Dalya’s shift­ing iden­tity. Some­times she feels that she’ll never be at home in the United States and other times she’s able to em­brace the re­la­tion­ships she has built with close friends and to ap­pre­ci­ate her life here. This ten­sion be­tween one place and the other, which has been well-doc­u­mented by hy­phen­ated Amer­i­cans and im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties alike, is not of­ten ad­dressed on­screen. I love that the film al­lows the viewer to ques­tion, along with the pro­tag­o­nist, which coun­try is Dalya’s “other coun­try” af­ter all. RAT­ING:

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