The British comedy "The Infidel" kicks off a new film series, "New Voices in Middle Eastern Cinema," Wednesday evening at the Harmony Gold Theater in Los Angeles.
British-Iranian comic actor Omid Djalili stars in the topical farce as a Muslim who is shocked to learn after his mother's death that he had been adopted. To complicate matters, he learns that his birth parents are Jewish. Richard Schiff of "The West Wing" fame also stars in the comedy (which had a brief theatrical run in L.A. this spring) as a Jewish cab driver. Both actors are scheduled to discuss the film after the screening.
The August 2010 brouhaha over a proposed Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero has definitively demonstrated that 9/11 is not the past, but remains a painful reminder for many Americans. One film that tries to capture 9/11's emotional fallout and its effect on Arabs and Muslims is the Bollywood drama by Karan Johar, My Name Is Khan. Released in the U.S. in February and just out on DVD, this international production has Forrest Gump ambitions it doesn't quite reach, yet nonetheless goes deep into the pain of American Muslims who continue to suffer the consequences of what happened in Manhattan on that warm September morning almost a decade ago.
Zeitoun (McSweeney's Books, 2009), so named for the surname of the main character, is a harrowing, nonfictional tale of biblical proportions—the crux of which takes place in New Orleans immediately following Hurricane Katrina.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his wife Kathy are practicing Muslims who own a busy painting company and numerous properties throughout New Orleans. Zeitoun is well-known and heavily utilized, especially at the first warnings of any storm, for in addition to the usual painting jobs his company is regularly called on for the preparatory securing of homes and offices. When Katrina arrives, he feels he cannot abandon the city during its time of crisis. He evacuates Kathy and their four children but is compelled to stay behind. Like a mini version of the flood story, his world is all but drowned. Rather than seeking the protection of an ark, however, this protagonist takes to a second-hand canoe.
Reviewed by Tara Marie Good
Encompassing the main pillars of theatre genres, the Salaam.Peace anthology, edited by Holly Hill and Dina Amin (Random House 2009), addresses questions of identity in the face of conflict. It is a riveting tome that introduces both students of theater and lovers of literature to the vibrant world of Middle Eastern American drama.
In her introduction, Holly Hill describes the naissance of these plays and Middle Eastern theatre as a collective, as a call to arms following the social backlash many Middle Eastern Americans felt following September 11th. Before 2001 there wasn't much interest in Middle Eastern American theatre, from either the general American audience or in the Middle Eastern communities themselves. This lack of support of Middle Eastern theatre stems from a long history of Arabs/Muslims keeping ethic identity private and out of the national spotlight. The need and ability to remain private changed almost ten years ago when Middle Eastern playwrights and artists experienced a communal need to represent the history and humanity of their culture in the face of so much inhumanity stemming from propaganda and war.