Ajami

Oscar season is approaching and once again a film from Israeli and/or Palestine is in contention. Two years ago it was the promising but ultimately meandering Paradise Now. Last year it was the beautiful but politically blinkered Waltz with Bashir. This year it's Ajami, a noir/thriller set in an ethnically mixed neighbourhood of Jaffa. 

On the one hand, this film looks like it might be good--it's gotten a lot of positive reviews so far. And it's nice to see a gritty, contemporary movie mostly in Arabic, starring amateur actors from Jaffa, getting awards in Israel and beyond. 

On the other hand, you can expect a lot of international coverage to sound like this: 

The last thing you see in "Ajami" should be the first thing on your mind about this compelling new film from Israel. That would be the closing credits, written in both Hebrew and Arabic, separate but equal, side by side, mirroring the creative process behind this potent work and the story it has to tell.

That's from a review in the LA Times. Yes, the film is a collaboration between a Jewish Israeli and an Arab Israeli--offering everyone the perfect uplifting story hook, and another opportunity to expound on Israelis' and Palestinians' shared humanity (while avoiding talking about their very unshared legal rights and economic opportunities). 

 It's therefore interesting, in a review in The National, to see the Arab Israeli involved say he:

...condemns the Israeli government for exploiting the film as a promotional tool. He says Palestinians living in Israel have no equal rights, are treated with racism and not allowed to teach their history or culture. He hopes the film calls attention to their plight. “Acknowledging a group of people exists is the beginning,” he said. “When you know that something exists, you know it has problems. When you know that it has problems, it’s the first step in finding a solution.”

Mr. Copti should know about discrimination against Arab Israelis, given how his brothers were recently arrested, beaten, pepper-sprayed and told:  "What we did to you people in Gaza was just the beginning." 

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Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.