Yesterday at the DOCAVIV film festival, which is held annually at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, I saw an extraordinarily moving and beautiful film about sexual abuse in the Arab community – Doma, directed by Abeer Zeibak Haddad (documentary, 51 minutes).
The title of the film, Doma, means dolls in Arabic and the film opens with a scene from a puppet show called Chocolate that the filmmaker created -- we watch as a strange man approaches a little girl in the park and spins her on the carousel, faster and faster. We don't see what happens after but the pace quickens and we feel actual fear.
The film is about four women who were abused as girls and today they decide to speak up and break the silence dealing with this subject that is so prevalent in the Arab community. This is the story of women who were afraid to speak out as little girls, afraid to shout out, afraid to confront their attackers. A black Bedouin woman, photographed from behind in a moving car, explains, "In our society they always blame the victimized girl."
Only one woman, a sculptor named Manal, speaks directly to the camera about what happened to her. She is creating a sculpture installation incorporating sexual organs and using Christian symbolism. She says, "Women do not own their own bodies." In another scene, she talks about how she didn't want anyone to touch her breast, and as a result was not physically or emotionally able to nurse her twins when they were babies.
Another woman tells that she was repeatedly raped since she was 5-years old by her uncle, her mother's brother. Her grandmother knew, but kept silent. And yet another woman talks about the pain of having been abused by her own father and how she tried to resist it.
Each woman reacts differently. One woman decides that she must confront her rapist and another wants to file a complaint with the police.
This is a film about very brave women who are speaking out about a terrible tragedy in their lives, about a subject that is still difficult for them to confront. For years, they were afraid of speaking out because they could be murdered by their male relatives for bringing disgrace to their families. In fact, similar stories of family honor have brought death to many women. We watch as a Druze father, still in mourning for his daughter, is addressing a crowd at a demonstration and talking about so many girls who have been murdered.
The film is beautifully shot – the women are shot from the back, looking out a window, one is looking out at the sea, or slightly distorted in a window or mirror, or shot from behind in a moving car. One is also shot surrounded by a field of Sabras, a plant that symbolizes the deep contradiction between aggression and nature. This element of anonymity in the film makes it so authentic and emphasizes the fact that these four women are a voice for all those who have suffered similar experiences in their youth.
The film is available from the producer: Suheil Haddad (husband of the director)
or from Go2 Films