What Walaa Wants is not only refreshing because of its young protagonist’s eagerness to break institutional and cultural “norms” but its compelling lens upon a part of the Arab world that’s too often, by western media, confined to matters of group conflict instead of personal obstacle.
What does Walaa want? That’s the question posed by filmmaker Christy Garland in her absorbing documentary film shot over six years. We follow the eponymous Walaa as the young, former West Bank refugee pursues an ambition to defy gender stereotypes, both at an institutional and cultural level, to become one of the few women to join the Palestinian Security Forces.
Garland’s depiction of Walaa’s seemingly mundane domesticity is actually a clever way to highlight the provocation of this young woman’s restlessness and why she’s shirking traditions and cultural acceptance to become part of the institution tasked with policing the Palestinian territories.
Her journey from school kid to police officer is inherently absorbing, the challenges of training, her adaptation to new surroundings, and the emergence of her rebellious nature in the face of authority exhibiting the spirit, defiance and courage of someone who’s not interested in the status quo.
What’s more, as a Muslim woman, Walaa breaks down western presumptions about Islamic females; she isn’t constrained by headdress or oppressed by men. She has a freedom, it appears, to wear what she wants, and, along with other women training for the Palestinian Security Forces, earning her right to a level playing field in a professional institution next to male peers.
Walaa’s indifference to the hijab gives the film a visual metaphor to underline director Garland’s ambition to showcase a freedom for Muslim families to adapt their lives to the doctrine of faith without being handcuffed to extreme or archaic systems and values.
Similarly, What Walaa Wants isn’t focused on the conflict in the area which so many films about the region are. That’s as refreshing as its young protagonist’s eagerness to break the “rules” and why this documentary provides a compelling lens upon a part of the Arab world that’s too often, by western media, confined to matters of group conflict instead of personal obstacle.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Christy Garland
Written by: n/a
Released: 2017 / Genre: Revenge Thriller
Country: Canada/Denmark (in Arabic) / IMDB
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What Walaa Wants will screen at the BBC Arabic Film Festival on Sunday March 24.