Advertisement Close

Film And Discussion Panel To Bring Sharp Focus To The Struggles Of Arab Americans

posted on: Sep 22, 2019



When a few voices represent a culture in the media, how do those representations look to the people they’re representing, and to the broader community? A series of free events, sponsored by Old Dominion University’s Department of Communication and Theatre Arts, aims to shed light these issues.

On Sept. 26, the department will host a free screening of filmmaker Susan Youssef’s latest feature work, “Marjoun & The Flying Headscarf”, followed by a Q&A with the director. The next day, a discussion panel on contemporary representations of Arab Americans in U.S. media with filmmaker Susan Youssef, Dr. Kristian Petersen of Philosophy & Religious Studies, and Shadi Bayadsi of World Languages & Cultures, will be held in the Batten Arts & Letters building on ODU’s campus.

Images Courtesy of College of Arts & Letters at Old Dominion University

Marjoun is only the third Arab American feature film to have been made — as Youssef points out, “We still have a lot of work to do .”

Bringing together themes of civil rights movements and interfaith practice, Marjoun is an expansion of a short film that was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival. The feature-length film follows the journey of a teenager in Arkansas who searches for identity in the headscarf and a motorcycle in the aftermath of her father’s imprisonment. Set in 2006, the film explores the results of Arab and Muslim Americans being increasingly detained for “guilt by association.” Linking the civil rights struggle of Arab/Muslim Americans with that of African Americans, Marjoun weaves the title character’s story into the lineage of the Little Rock Nine.

Images Courtesy of College of Arts & Letters at Old Dominion University

Though Youssef has faced challenges over the years – “the poverty of being an indie filmmaker; traveling to difficult locations; working with underrepresented people” – she is quick to point out that these challenges have always come with great rewards.

“The mistakes I made along the way, and successes I have had, were both directly related to my great friends and the work I have done or not done on myself,” Youssef said. “The filmmakers that succeed do not have the most talent, or the best stories, or even the most powerful contacts. They have great personal awareness of one’s self and support.”

Youssef, who was a schoolteacher and journalist in Beirut before entering filmmaking, has written and directed two dramatic features, a documentary, and seven shorts that have been official selections of film festivals such as Venice, Toronto International, and Sundance. Her works have also been featured in museums including Tate Modern, New Museum, and Museum of Modern Art in New York. She is a Fulbright Fellow, Princess Grace Award Winner, and 21st Century Fox Director Fellow.

We live at a moment of intensified xenophobia and anxiety about immigrant and minority populations, said Dr. Avi Santo, professor and chair of the Communication and Theater Arts Department.

“Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment has been legitimated by policies looking to restrict entry into the US from Muslim countries and by hateful rhetoric meant to separate “us” from “them”,” Santo said. “The arts and popular culture are important avenues for pushing back against these sentiments and for promoting interfaith understanding, empathy, curiosity, solidarity among people.”

Images Courtesy of College of Arts & Letters at Old Dominion University

He continued, “we hope that this film, written and directed by an accomplished Arab American female filmmaker, can provide an opening for more conversations across the dividers being placed in our paths. More than that, and regardless of one’s political views, I think we all need to encounter diverse stories about what it means to be an American in the Twenty-First Century, and Marjoun and the Flying Headscarf is quintessentially an American film focused on the experiences of Arab Americans in a post-9/11 society. Stories both illuminate and complicate our worldview and our sense of self. I hope this one will do just that.”

“Marjoun and the Flying Headscarf” will be screened Thursday, Sept. 26 from 6:30 to 80 p.m. at the University Theatre, followed by a Q&A with the director. The event is free and open to the public, but seat tickets can be reserved through

In addition to the screening, the Department of Communications & Theatre Arts will also host a panel discussion on contemporary representations of Arab Americans in US media on Friday, September 27 from 2-4 PM in BAL 9024. The event, free and open to the public, will feature panelists filmmaker Susan Youssef, Dr. Kristian Petersen of the Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies, and Shadi Bayadsi of the Department of World Languages & Cultures.