The filmmaker on her feel-good (sort of) movie, Palestinians in the Windy City, and how personal experiences can trump political arguments.
Michael Archer in Guernica:
During the first Gulf War, Palestinian-American filmmaker Cherien Dabis’s family, living in Ohio, received death threats; the Secret Service even came to her high school to investigate a rumor that her seventeen-year-old sister threatened to kill the President. When Dabis entered Columbia University’s film school in September 2001, she found history repeating itself. “There was, and still is, incredible suspicion and fear of Arabs, even if they’re American. That was when I realized that it was time to sit down and write my version of the coming-to-America story.”
That version is Amreeka, which distributor National Geographic Entertainment is hailing as the first Arab-American film to get major theatrical distribution. The film, which opened in New York and Los Angeles on September 4 and expands to twenty more markets on September 18, follows the immigration of Muna and her son Fadi from Palestine to Chicago, where they come to live with Muna’s sister, Raghda, and her family. While the story opens in Palestine, where Muna and Fadi must deal with checkpoints, it mostly follows the mother and son’s struggles once they’ve arrived in the United States. Muna’s seed money is confiscated by customs agents, forcing her to work secretly at White Castle; Fadi has to deal with racist comments and bullying at school; and Muna’s sister’s family is strained when anti-Arab sentiment begins to erode her husband’s business.