n March, Hollywood will roll out the red carpet to honor the achievements of professionals in the film industry. One film that was overlooked by the Academy this year is Amreeka, the debut film directed by Cherien Dabis.Amreeka, which received rave reviews at film festivals throughout 2009, tells the story of a Palestinian woman, Muna, and her son, Fadi, who leave the West Bank to settle in the suburbs of Chicago at the beginning of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In February, Ms. Dabis took time to speak with AAPER about her film, her experience as a Palestinian American and her plans for the future.
AAPER: I think that one of the things that sets Amreeka apart is how naturally the audience can connect to and identify with the characters. Do you think this would have been any less the case if the family was Muslim rather than Christian?
CD: No, because I wanted to minimize religion in the movie. If they were Muslim -- if they were wearing the hijab [head scarf] -- maybe people would identify less. Although I would have wanted to normalize that in a way and make it so that it’s not a big deal. In some ways, seeing it come on and off [at home] would have been just your average mundane, daily event, not to be made a big deal out of. I wanted to stick to the truth of my own experience, which is part of the reason I made them Christian. And I minimized religion anyway because I feel, as Palestinians, when it boils down to it, we end up being either a religious or a political issue or some kind of combination. I wanted to draw us as humans first and foremost, and let that other stuff fall into the background.