American audiences haven’t been given many glimpses into the world of Middle Eastern people living in America. Amreeka was my first, besides the view into my own life. When I first saw this film ten years ago, it was like a warm hug saying “you are not alone.”
When I watch Amreeka, it doesn’t matter that I’m not Palestinian. They speak Arabic, my grandmother’s language, which helps me remember her laugh and the smells of her kitchen. The dancing in the film, again at my grandmother’s house, seeing in my mind’s eye my aunts and uncles joyously dancing with each other. When Muna’s mother bursts into song, so does my Auntie Sabeeha. There are so many more precious details in this film that will ring true for most of the MENA diaspora. The expectations of the parents – “when you are in this house, you are in Palestine!,” the food on the dinner table, the living room furniture in the home. And unfortunately, the teasing at school and the daily microaggressions. While there were so many similarities for me to cling to in this film, I so wish I had someone in my life like Muna who would look me in the eye and tell me to be strong and proud. And this is one of the many reasons I love this film.
Amreeka is courageous in its humanity, in it’s empathy, and in stating a strong opinion about Palestine. An opinion that, as a radical Jew, I agree with. It’s hard to watch Muna start to see what might happen to her boy if they stay in Palestine.
There is a lot of lightness in this film too. Around Muna’s new job at White Castle, where she forges an unlikely friendship with a punk high school dropout, and with the school principal, who’s a little sweet on her. Who wouldn’t be? Muna’s inner beauty pours onto the screen, and she becomes more physically beautiful as she becomes more comfortable in her new life. With all of her difficulties, she is able to take joy in these small moments that help propel the film forward. And it’s in these moments that we can all learn something.