Binary Vision

 My most recent foray into research is Queer/Palestinian Cinema: A Critical Conversation on Palestinian Queer and Women’s Filmmaking (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p134-144). I’m interested in this paper because in many ways Palestine is a culture of non-people and I’m intrigued to discover if this is reflected in their cinema, especially in work by or about LGBT people and women.

This paper reports on a selection of panels brought together under the banner of  “Queer/Palestinian: Critical Strategies in Palestinian Queer and Women’s Filmmaking (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p134-144)” which were held at Yale University in 2011:

Following a screening of eight new short Palestinian video works, the panelists and audience discussed a range of issues, including intersections of cinema, queerness, and the struggle for Palestinian sovereignty. The global political climate of grassroots organizing and protest sparked by the Arab Spring provided a charged context in which to consider work by queer and women Palestinian artists in close relation to transformational politics and social movements. (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p135-136)

The event was created partly in response to Israeli pinkwashing, a phenomenon that I’ve not encountered before:

As an initiative of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Brand Israel campaign, pinkwashing describes conscious tactics to improve Israel’s image abroad by packaging gay rights and tourism as markers of freedom and tolerance, and by representing Palestinian society as backward and homophobic in comparison. Israeli advocacy organizations, like StandWithUs, promote pinkwashing at educational and cultural institutions and events, including film festivals, across the world. (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p136)


The event organisers wanted to counterpoint both this pinkwashing and non-Palestinian critiques of it by highlighting how “queer Palestinians mobilize and understand themselves (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p134-144)”. They wanted to take back control of the conversation and use it to drive discussions about broader topics such as Palestinian sovereignty:

Beginning with the premise that Palestinians ought to determine the terms of their own sovereignty, including gender, sexual, and bodily rights, the NYU and Yale “Queer/Palestinian” program sought to weave independent cultural and artistic production into a larger discussion on Palestinian visions for liberation. (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p136-137)

This link between traditionally marginalised groups and the wider Palestinian issues is pressed by Jankovic and Awad, who quote queer theorist Judith Butler:

I think that queer people should have solidarity with those populations whose lives are not considered liveable. That’s a kind of alliance that I would understand as a queer alliance. So that explains why I would — as someone who elaborated a queer theory — be very concerned with the situation in Palestine. (McCann, 2011)

Jankovic & Awad suggest that the binary categories often associated with otherness apply with particular resonance to the position all Palestinians find themselves in, “how either/or categories, like out/closeted, have repeatedly determined the limits of how Palestine is imagined and reimagined in the world (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p138).” And they go to reflect speeches by Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yassir Arafat and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas noting that, although coming from different viewpoints “essentially these two men faced the same binary choices (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p138).”


Jankovic & Awad also note the effect of modern technology on Palestinian nationalism (and by extension Palestinian cinema):

[…] the Palestinian struggle, previously understood primarily in terms of national liberation, has changed significantly due to the effect of technologies like the Internet, which created the possibility for seemingly nonterritorial notions of Palestine and diverse forms of Palestinian activism. (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p138)

The nebulous nature of Palestinian identity, unencumbered by fixed boundaries and territories is also linked to broken and unconventional narratives:

Indeed, although there are forms of Palestinian nationalism tied to particular ideas about statehood and borders, there is also a broader Palestinian community whose sense of Palestine and belonging crosses territorial borders — even, or perhaps especially, when they are unable to follow such itineraries themselves. In other words, finding alternative routes of belonging and surviving conditions of fragmentation may in some ways be a defining characteristic of Palestinian unity explaining what Edward Said characterizes as the “formal instability” marking much of Palestinian literature and art. “Our characteristic mode, then,” Said writes, “is not a narrative, in which scenes take place seriatum, but rather broken narratives, fragmentary compositions, and self-consciously staged testimonials, in which the narrative voice keeps stumbling over itself, its obligations, and its limitations (Said, 1986 p38).” (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p139)

These alternate narratives lend themselves to interesting blends of documentary and fiction. An example is Two Adaptations of the Same Novel (Awad, 2011) which:

[…] synthesizes two ideologically different versions of the same story of the Mahmoody family — the melodrama Not Without My Daughter [(Gilbert, 1991)], based on the memoir of the same name, and Without My Daughter [(Kouros and Tervo, 2002)], a Finnish documentary created with the real-life Sayed Mahmoody in an attempt to rebut the Hollywood story of abuse and abduction.

In describing her film Awad made clear that it was designed “to unsettle the aesthetics of both the narrative and the documentary, (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p139)”.

This desire to play against traditional narrative structures and experiment with documentary footage seems to appear in several Palestinian films. An example is Rejoice, O My Heart (Moufawad-Paul, 2011) in which:

[…] clips from Egyptian musicals starring popular Arabic singer and national figure Umm Kulthum are care-fully edited to construct intimate moments between Kulthum and other women in the films, drawing out what might otherwise appear as inconsequential seconds in the source films. (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p140)

Another example is Houria (Hattab, 2011), which uses unconventional narratives to tell the story of Palestinian displacement:

Images of a mermaid Hattab sprawled at the shore- line of the former Palestinian town of Manshiye — an area between present- day Tel Aviv and Jaffa’s Old City that was destroyed in — are interwoven with Hattab’s aunt’s story of her family’s dispersion during al nakba (the catastophe), which created the Israeli state through the displacement and near-destruction of Palestinian society […]Throughout Houria, a queer and feminist perspective reframes a predominantly masculinist narrative of Palestinian national loss and struggle for return through the emphasis on listening to Hattab’s aunt’s voice. Similarly, Hattab performs a kind of in- between state — queerly embodied as neither male nor female, human nor fish, and positioned between the resort beaches of Tel Aviv and the shores of the Old City of Jaffa.  (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p140)

Hattab explicitly rejects conventional (Western) narrative structures, as being inadequate for both queer and Palestinian needs: “[we] are trying to start a new expression, a new language […] we can’t just copy- paste the experience from the West (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p140)”.


Jankovic and Awad also reference Eli Rezik’s shorts Living Alone without Me (Rezik, 2011) and Between Us Two (Rezik, 2011), noting that they tackle otherness “through playful subversions of foreground/background image and sound, suggesting the need to find novel ways to address seemingly impossible intimacies (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p141)”.

Finally they suggest that the rejection of artistic, cultural and social convention is the only way in which the binary nature of otherness can be mitigated: “artistic rejections of binary visions of the world also necessarily take place outside, or to the side of, national institutions and established cultural venues (Jankovic & Awad, 2012 p141)”.


Awad, N., (2011), Two Adaptations of the Same Novel, [film]

Gilbert, B., (1991), Not Without My Daughter, Pathé Entertainment

Hattab, R., (2011), Houria, [film]

Jankovic, C. & Awad, N., (2012), Queer/Palestinian Cinema: A Critical Conversation on Palestinian Queer and Women’s Filmmaking, Camera Obscura 80, 27 (2), pp. 134-144

Kouros, A. and Tervo,K., (2002), Without My Daughter, [film]

McCann, M., (2011), Whose lives matter? An interview with Judith Butler [online], DailyXtra, Available from: [Accessed on 9 July 2016]

Moufawad-Paul, V., (2011) Rejoice, O My Heart, [film]

Rezik, E., (2011), Living Alone without Me, [film]

Rezik, E., (2011), Between Us Two, [film]

Said, E., (1986), After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives, New York: Pantheon Books


3 thoughts on “Binary Vision

  1. Pingback: Paradise Now | TRANSNOCTURNAL

  2. Pingback: An Accented Cinema | TRANSNOCTURNAL

  3. Pingback: Houria | TRANSNOCTURNAL

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