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Cannes Film Festival: A Jordanian Milestone with INSHALLAH BOY by Amjad Al Rasheed


As part of the Critics' Week category, and becoming the first ever Jordanian film to be selected in Cannes, Inshallah Boy (Inshallah Walad) follows the story of a widow who pretends to be pregnant with a son in order to save her daughter and home from a relative exploiting Jordan’s patriarchal inheritance law.

AM: How long did it take you to make Inshallah Boy? And where did the idea come?
ALR: It took me six years to do this film, including two years of COVID, so there was a pause in between. The idea came from a close relative of mine who was almost in the same situation as my main character.

AM: Do you believe that changing the statuesque of women will take time?
ALR: To be honest, I'm not very hopeful. I feel it needs a lot of work and we need to talk more about it and open an honest conversation. You know, we have this famous quote saying that the woman is half of the society. So how can our societies develop and move forward when half of it is suffering from inequality and from laws that chain it? Women can't even control their bodies or lives. We need to reevaluate all these laws that were created thousands of years ago.

And I'm not talking about one religion, I'm talking about all the religions. Religions are male dominant and patriarchal. And yes, I'm focusing about a specific law in Jordan and in the Middle East and in Islamic countries, but it echoes other laws like equality in salaries in Europe and in the US. So, it's not something very specific to our region only, it's all over.

AM: The film is a generational story as well and there are so many women in it…
ALR: Definitely, because at some point the generations of my mother and grandmother were much more open as a society, and there was a shift in the behaviors and beliefs after all that went on in the Middle East. I wanted to show that, for example, the old lady is like our forgotten memory and how we were before the chaos started in our region. The little girl represents hope in the future. I believe it all comes with the education, it starts there. If we want hope back, we need to start with the new generation otherwise we will stay where we are.  

AM: And would you say you're a feminist?
ALR: No. I'm a human being. I know it's a story about women, but we need to stop gendering the story. The story has no gender, the story has no sexuality. And yes, I'm a man telling the story of a woman, but we're both humans, no? This question has been asked a lot, and I started noticing that we have a problem here and that we label everything around us.

AM: Can you talk about the male characters in your film and your approach to writing their roles?  ALR: I decided to put all the characters in a grey zone where we understand them as antagonists or protagonists. I believe that with modern storytelling we can't portray any character unless it's in a grey zone because we as human beings, have both qualities, the evil and the good. And it depends on the circumstances and the situations we are in. The evilness or the goodness also depends on the education, exposure, how human we are and how we deal with things.

It was very important to me to portray men in this zone because I wanted to ask a moral question; if you have the right and you have the laws backing you, would you do what they did? It was very important for me to make the audience contemplate, because we are in a critical time where we have to think more of what has been normalized since the past 100 years. We need to reassess these behaviors against women, not only in the Middle East but in the whole world.

AM: And how does it feel to be the ambassador of Jordanian cinema here in Cannes?
ALR: It's true that it’s the first Jordanian film selected in Cannes. It’s always been a dream that I never thought will be realized. It feels great but it comes with a big responsibility of representing Jordan in such a huge festival. It’s also a responsibility for what I am going to do next.

AM: Overall, why do you think it took so much time for Jordanian cinema to arrive here?
ALR: We are a young industry. It all started with the Royal Film Commission in 2005. I can't call it an industry yet because industry means Hollywood, Bollywood or Egypt. And to call it an industry, it should have an infrastructure. We have a strong cinematic movement and each couple of years we have films that go to all the festivals and are well received. We have fantastic crews because several international films have been shot in Jordan. Our crews are very well trained, talented, and professional.

AM: Do you think that the film is going to be appreciated in Jordan?
ALR: Well, I hope so. I'm not afraid of criticism, but I understand that it will be a tough film for the Jordanian audience as our industry, if we can call it that way, is young, and we don't have a lot of films coming from Jordan. The audience is not used to watching themselves, and not used to standing in front of a mirror. Some immediately attacked it and said it does not represent our culture nor Jordan. We still don't understand that cinema does not always have to portray our country in a beautiful way. It's not like an advertisement for the country. We still need to work on the mindset, thoughts and beliefs of people.