What are you guilty of: falling in love, having sexual desires, not getting along with your mother-in-law, refusing to live with a cheating husband? These are among the charges of “El Jaida,” women in 1950s Tunisia, who were imprisoned in a communal house, Dar El Jaid, for standing up to the patriarchy.
Growing up in the Middle East, specifically in Tunisia, as a woman, is not an easy identity to wear. Female bodies are policed: by the state, the family, the mosque, the neighbors, the streets… and the history of such societal conditioning and practices are varied and wide.
Selma Baccar, the first Tunisian woman to direct a feature length film back in the 70s, is an activist, politician, producer, and filmmaker, and she uses her cinematic prowess to engage the viewer, yet again, with the importance of all women’s rights already acquired. Watching El Jaida, a cinematic feminist manifesto, is an empowering experience to every woman. It’s a viewing experience that infuses the soul, in subtle and direct ways, to continue the fight for women’s liberties.
Taking place at the back of a crumbling French colonial regime, and before Personal Status Laws were established in the country, the movie echoes the plight of Tunisian women wanting to break away from imprisonment. The country’s gaining independence in 1956 and a flash forward to women in parliament today, drafting the new constitution in 2012, constitute a historic celebration to the resilience of the women in the film.
A big applause to this film for bringing topics like incest, marital rape, slavery, and even homosexuality on the screen, and championing the cause of women from all walks of life. Topping the witty dialogue with an acclaimed acting performance and meticulous production sets, El Jaida takes us right back to Tunis Al Madina, where the scent of a revolution is in the air.