Minorities in societies across the Middle East are beginning to gain a presence in Arab film, as discussed in the latest film festival in Tangier, Morocco.
The Cap Spartel Festival is a film festival organised in Tangier, Morocco, which has been running now for five years. This year, there has been a strong focus on issues connected to identity, multiculturalism and minorities within Arab-majority nation-states across the Middle East.
Certain groups, such as religious and ethnic minorities within Arab and Muslim-majority states, have hardly been mentioned within Arab cinema in the past. The Arab film industry thus requires a certain shift in focus and discourse in order to normalise such topics so that they may be more openly discussed in the societies of the Middle East in a more tolerant manner.
A British film won the Best Director Award at the film festival in Morocco. The film tells the story of a Jewish meat merchant who lost his job. He then hides his identity and then claims to be a Muslim in order to work in a Muslim-owned butcher shop. He experiences a sense of dissatisfaction, internal conflict, and diverging attitudes before his situation gets resolved by changing his profession to selling fish, detached from any religious identity. He then comes to the realisation that he did not need to hide his identity or live a life of contradictions.
Social and political changes in Arab-majority societies and states have been accelerated over the past few years, especially since the chain of political crises that have afflicted the Middle East since 2011. Citizens’ desire for a more democratic environment across the region ties in with the themes of tolerance and coexistence as this forms part and parcel of people’s civil duties towards one another.
Sectarian attitudes, nonetheless, persist throughout the region and have been a core element of the rise of extremist groups such as ISIS, which has attempted to spread its hateful message across all Muslim-majority states. Film can be used as a tool to counter such sectarian discourse, especially with the resurgence of civil society activity in spaces that have been cleared of ISIS elements.