Jordan’s Royal Film Commission has pulled Egyptian director Mohamed Diab’s drama “Amira” – which was filmed in Jordan and is set in the Palestinian West Bank – as its submission to the 2022 international feature Oscar race following a storm of social media controversy against the film.
Pic, which takes its cue from real-life instances of Palestinian children conceived behind bars in Israeli jails with smuggled sperm, has suddenly prompted a rapidly increasing number of Palestinian activists to protest on Twiter and other social media. The film premiered in Venice in September and subsequently played at the El Gouna fest in Egypt and the Carthage fest in Tunisia.
Since 2012, more than 100 children have been conceived using the smuggled sperm of incarcerated Palestinians, according to the end titles of the film which revolves around a teenage girl who believes she was conceived from the sperm of a Palestinian activist serving a life sentence.
The families of Palestinian prisoners and organizations involved in championing their rights are now blasting “Amira” for being insensitive and misrepresenting their plight.
Isreali daily Haarez reported that Qadri Abu Bakr, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority’s Prisoners Affairs Commission, had announced that the Palestinian culture minister, Atef Abu Saif, would approach his Jordanian counterpart in an effort to block distribution of Diab’s film.
Another effect, aside from Jordan pulling “Amira” from the Oscar race, is that the film was pulled by the producers from Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival where it was scheduled to screen on Thursday.
The Royal Film Commission in a statement defended the film but said it decided to pull Amira from the Oscar race because the controversy could be damaging to the Palestinian cause.
“Its message doesn’t harm in any way the Palestinian cause nor that of the prisoners; on the contrary, it highlights their plight, their resilience as well as their willingness to live a decent life in spite of the occupation,” read the statement.
“However, in light of the recent huge controversy that the film has triggered and the perception by some that it is detrimental to the Palestinian cause, and out of respect to the feelings of the prisoners and their families, the Royal Film Commission has taken the decision not to have “Amira” representing Jordan for the Academy Awards 2022,” the statement added.
“Amira,” which comes after Diab made a splash in Cannes in 2016 with Islamic fundamentalism-themed thriller “Clash,” is produced by Mohamed Hefzy at Egypt’s Film Clinic, Moez Masoud at Acamedia and Mona Abdelwahab at The Studio; Palestinian filmmaker-producers Hany Abu Assad and Amira Diab; Egyptian producer Sarah Goher; Jordan’s Rula Nasser of The Imaginarium Films; and Paris-based Daniel Ziskind.
The producers also issued a statement countering the critical claims.
“The film presents the suffering, challenges and heroic practices of the prisoners and their extended family and unveils the perseverance of the Palestinian character that continues to find ways to survive and be sustained and attempts to deeply delve into the significance of ‘children of freedom’ to the Palestinian people,” it said.
They added that they were seeking to set up a screening for a committee representing Palestinian prisoners and their families to judge the film, implying that they don’t think all those who are now up in arms about “Amira” have actually seen it.
“The Palestinian prisoners and their feelings are our priority and prime interest, hence we will cease any screening of the film and request to establish a committee representative of the prisoners and their families to watch and discuss the film. We are confident of the purity and nobility of what we present in “Amira” without being remotely offensive to the prisoners and their families.”