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Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Film ‘Amira’: Artistic Imagination Weighs More than the Sufferings of Palestinian Prisoners

Film ‘Amira’
Egyptian film director Mohamed Diab poses for a photo call as part of 5th edition of El Gouna Film Festival, in El Gouna, Egypt, on October 21, 2021. Photo by Ammar Abd Rabbo/El Gouna Film Festival

Youssef Sharqawi

The movie Amira, which was screened a few days ago at the Karama Human Rights Film Festival in Amman, was accused of being detrimental to the incarcerated Palestinians in the Israeli occupation prisons, opposing the rights of smuggled-sperm children, and supporting the Israeli narrative about sperm smuggling.

Palestinian factions and institutions concerned with prisoners’ affairs considered that the film casts doubt on the lineage of the prisoners’ children who were born through smuggled sperm. The Palestinians described it as “the imagination that aims to achieve artistic gains at the expense of the prisoners’ sacrifices.”

The film was entirely shot in Jordan in 2019, written and directed by Egyptian director Mohamed Diab, and joint Egyptian-Jordanian-Palestinian production.

According to Palestinian researcher Izz El-Din Al-Tamimi, the film is based “on the story of a Palestinian girl whose mother gave birth to her after she was pregnant from smuggled sperm. When her parents seek another child, she discovers that her incarcerated father is not her biological father. Amira is then swallowed into an existential crisis, which, according to those in charge of the film, is supposed to raise major questions about identity, paternity and alienation.”

Amira is raised believing that she came to the world due to artificial insemination from sperm smuggled from her father in Megiddo prison. She was later shocked that the sperm belonged to an Israeli officer. The film said that he was responsible for smuggling from inside the prison and that he replaced the sample before it was handed over to the family.

The film contradicts reality in this part and others. For example: “In one of the scenes, it is suggested that prisoners register their children with names of other fathers, which never happened in the 10-years-old experience of smuggled sperm in Palestine.”

Although the filmmakers stated that the film was fictional and isn’t based on a true story, critics had a different opinion.

Film critic Najeh Hassan, who watched the film at the Carthage Festival, said that the film “does not befit the prisoners, the Palestinian, Jordanian or Egyptian people, and does not represent the Arab identity and our national causes.” He added, “It is not permissible to involve imagination in directing the plot of the film at the expense of the prisoners and their just national cause in their battle with the Zionist enemy.”

Ibrahim Musallam, director of the movie “Notfah” and the film “Tahreeb Hayah,” for Al-Jazeera said that “dualism in dealing with prisoners’ issues is not different from supporting the occupation’s narrative, a deliberate distortion of the most wonderful stories of heroism carved by their historical struggle, which will not be repeated elsewhere.”

While Tamimi believes that “the film’s lack of dependence on facts is understandable, given that the creative actors are not historians, and it is not a requirement that they adhere to reality literally,” any cinematic work, especially about the complex Palestinian reality, includes, as he sees it, “assumptions of representation,” and regardless of “any factual evaluation of the film, it is based on this claim to represent the experience of the liberated sperm and its actors.” Tamimi sums up by saying: “Artwork does not have to adhere to reality, but it has to respect the aspirations and suffering of those it claims to represent.”

Many statements have been issued by Palestinian and Arab organisations and institutions, voicing their irritation and condemnation of the film’s screening, requesting that it be banned from cinemas and withdrawn from all platforms. In its statement, the Palestinian Journalist Bloc described the film as a “national and moral crime that deserves severe legal penalties and social ostracism for all who partook in it.” Meanwhile, the Head of Jordanian Syndicate of Artists “Hussein al-Khatib,” confirmed his rejection of the distortion of the Palestinian prisoners’ struggle and resilience. The Royal Film Commission of Jordan also announced that the film was withdrawn from its Oscar nominations.

#Pull_Out_Amira has spread on Facebook in Jordan, Palestine and elsewhere. Some users accused the film’s makers of “deliberately provoking controversy at the expense of a humanitarian cause.”

Director Mohamed Diab responded with a statement on Facebook on behalf of the film’s crew, announcing the cessation of any screenings of the film, in which he said: “The consensus has always been that the film depicts the issue of prisoners positively, humanely and clearly criticises the occupation. The film’s crew fully understands the sperm smuggling subject’s sensitivity and the sanctity of children of freedom. That is why the decision was to declare that the film’s story is fictional and cannot happen, as the film ends with a sentence on the screen saying: (Since 2012, more than 100 children have been born using sperm smuggling. All the children’s lineage has been confirmed. Smuggling methods remain a mystery). The film crew didn’t leave the matter to interpretation but instead confirmed with this sentence that the film is fictional and that the actual method of smuggling is unknown. Also, the lead character’s age in the film is 18-years-old, which is logically inconsistent with the inception of smuggling sperm in 2012.”

Diab considered that the dramatic plot of the film, that is changing the sperm between the Palestinian prisoner and the Israeli soldier, posed an existential and philosophical question “about the essence of human belief and whether he or she would make the same choices if they were born as another person.” Stressing that the film once again “aligns itself with Palestine, as Amira chooses to be Palestinian and to side with the just cause. The film denounces and condemns the occupation practices explicitly referred to in the crime covered by the film.”

On the other hand, Tamimi, whose PhD thesis is on the subject of smuggled sperm from the point of view of women or wives of prisoners, and knows their suffering and struggle, says, “This struggle against colonialism and the policies of prison administrations, against deprivation, and local power relations, cannot be understood without understanding the aspirations of these women before anything else. The assumption that the film should not adhere to reality is correct. Still, it is not sufficient to justify this massive misrepresentation, and certainly not enough to justify disrespecting the aspirations of these women and their struggle for legitimacy.” The film’s director, Mohamed Diab, says that the Middle East is “a goldmine of stories.”

Tamimi adds: “those words must be questioned morally, artistically and aesthetically, simply because respecting the aspirations and suffering of those affected in reality is more important than creating an exciting story from the Magical Middle East.” Wael Kandil refers the film to the broader political dimensions, saying: “This film, with its content, its join-productions and its huge budget, is the first direct cinematic expression of the so-called ‘Abraham Accords’ led by Jared Kushner, who is now active in the region after establishing the Abraham Accords Peace Institute, a non-profit organisation that seeks to expand commercial and cultural relations between Israel and the Arabs.”

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