Khadijah VanBrakle’s book, a YA contemporary novel, is notable for tackling underrepresented social issues within Muslim communities.
Why Does Inclusion Exclude Palestinian Stories?
The story of the Nakba has never been told on a globally accessible platform like Netflix before, and the backlash it faces fits within a pattern of Hollywood’s willful ignorance of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.
This article was written in Februrary 2023 and has not been updated to reflect the current situation in Palestine.
“Farha” (2021) begins as a story about a Palestinian girl in 1948 rebelling against the norms of her community by planning to go to the city to study (in her words) “geography, history, maths [and] English.” The film rapidly turns into a harrowing depiction of the massacre of Palestinians death at the hands of Israeli forces.
The film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was lauded for its ambitious storytelling, heart wrenching narrative and focus on a perspective of the events of 1948 that has rarely been portrayed onscreen. “Farha” was also Jordan’s entry for “Best International Film” in the Academy Awards.
Along with this praise, the film also faced significant backlash from Israeli government officials and supporters who criticized its portrayal of atrocities committed by Israeli fighters. The criticism of the film was specifically targeted towards a scene where an entire Palestinian family is killed by Israeli soldiers and their newborn baby is left to die.
The massacre of Palestinians and destruction of their homes in 1948 by Israeli fighters is referred to as the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic), during which 750,000 Palestinians fled their homeland. This history is contested in Israel, where the events of 1948 are depicted as a triumphant gain of independence. The government has worked to censor documentation of the Nakba. “Farha’s” director Darin J. Sallam noted that telling the story of what many Palestinians endured during the Nakba is important to preserve their history. She explained that the stories of the atrocities committed in 1948 were passed down through generations of Palestinians, and that Farha’s story was loosely based on a story told to her mother by a Palestinian girl who was locked into a room by her father during the Nakba. In the film, Farha was similarly locked into a room by her father and witnessed the events of the Nakba through a hole in the door.
The film had been out for a year, and toured through several film festivals before it was released globally on Netflix, but curiously, there was no backlash then. Only when “Farha” reached a global stage did supporters of Israel become skittish about the film’s worldwide presentation of a history that they fought so hard to suppress. The story of the Nakba has never been told on a globally accessible platform like Netflix before, and the backlash it faces fits within a pattern of Hollywood’s willful ignorance of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.
This willful ignorance is indicated by the ubiquitous and unquestioned presence of pro-Israel narratives in Hollywood. Most recently, Marvel announced the film “Captain America: New World Order” in its upcoming slate of projects. The film will introduce the Israeli superhero Sabra, a mutant with super strength and speed who serves as an agent for Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel. In response to criticism of the character, Marvel Studios simply stated that they would take “a new approach” to the character, different from the one the comics took 40 years ago.
Some Marvel fans argued that including Sabra in the MCU is a good thing because Marvel has never done well with Jewish representation on-screen, but shifting the focus to diversity is a distraction from what Sabra actually represents: a refusal to acknowledge the Israeli apartheid government’s actions.
“Farha” brings a powerful, heart-wrenching narrative of a history that has rarely been told on a platform as wide-reaching as Netflix, but Marvel, which has created the biggest and most successful franchise in the world, faces no accountability for spotlighting a so-called heroine that actively participates in the oppression of Palestinians.
While a Marvel superhero and a story about a girl witnessing the events of the Nakba are not comparable, they demonstrate a startling hypocrisy in conversations around inclusive storytelling. What could be more inclusive than telling a part of history that has never been portrayed in film before? The backlash towards “Farha” shows the power of telling stories that challenge the status quo.
This hypocrisy is unique to the inclusion of Palestinian perspectives and stories. The fear of backlash similar to what “Farha” received often stops people from telling and funding stories like these, despite a gaping hole where Palestinian stories should be in Hollywood and the global film industry.“Farha” bravely moves to begin filling this gap.