‘Miral’ Writer Rula Jebreal Discusses Her Controversial New Film

Previously published on Illumemagazine.com

Miral, a movie about a Palestinian girl who grows up in an orphanage in Jerusalem, recently opened in New York City and Los Angeles with plans to expand in the next few weeks.

Directed by Award-Winning Director Julian Schnabel, Miral has been facing a lot of criticism since its release that Rula Jebreal, the author of the book and writer of the screenplay, believes is unfounded. I talked to her recently about her life, Miral, and how the movie has been perceived. Rula was really surprised at some of the criticism that the film received and believes that some critics had already made up their minds before even watching the film and have therefore not given the movie a fair chance. She feels that some fear that audiences will come to view Palestinians as real people and that’s one of the reasons they are scared of this film. Check out the rest of my interview with her below.

I know you had gone to school in Italy and I read that you had started off in medicine and then had gone into journalism. What inspired you to go into journalism?

Well my family and especially my friends thought that journalists have no way to survive and there’s no way you can really provide for yourself, become economically independent and all that. They said I need to find a real job and a real job should not be journalism or writing because before you can establish yourself as a writer, it will take a long time. So they wanted me to get a real job and quit dreaming and I tried but it didn’t work. It wasn’t right for me.

Miral has been described as semi-autobiographical or a biographical novel. How much of the movie is you?

Everything. It’s my life. It’s the life I lived in the Middle East before I went to Italy. It’s about my life my life, my family and friends, my story.

So is there any part at all in the movie that splits off and becomes fiction?

No, there’s no fiction. There’s no space for imagination in the Middle East. The only thing you write about is what you live. It’s brutal reality. Reality is always more dramatic and more interesting than any kind of fiction.

About the movie, you said in an interview with the New York Times that the movie scares critics. What is it about the Miral that does this?

It’s very simple. There’s censorship around the word Palestinian. Part of the narrative around how to build an enemy is for them to not be human beings. So you never look at their stories and you never read their narratives. What you do is always look at the negative actions that come from that side. So you see Palestinians as terrorists, as ignorant, as violent – you always portray them this way. For 63 years this narrative [like Miral] was absent from the mainstream media and audience in the United States. To bring this movie is to break the wall of silence around this subject – it’s breaking a taboo. And that’s what’s scary, that’s what’s subversive about this story. They don’t want the audience to relate to the story as a story that can move their humanity, their feelings, and their empathy. It’s something that scares them.

I’m very proud of Julian for making this movie. I’m not shocked by the racism facing this movie. I’ve been facing this my whole life, since I was born, because I am Palestinian. The fact that you are Palestinian means you have to go through this: denied even the possibility of telling your story.

Do you think this movie will give us a greater perspective of Palestinians and others in the Middle East?

I don’t know. I hope it will have a fair chance and that people won’t shy away from the movie because the critics told them so. I hope that first and then we’ll see.

Has your family and other Palestinians seen this film? What is their reaction to this movie?

We showed it at a film festival in Ramallah and showed it in theaters in different cities and the Palestinians loved it, they embraced it, really loved it. My sister saw it – it’s hard for her to see that scene with my mother, the rape and everything- but she loved the movie and thinks that Julian is incredible for telling the story. She told me to tell Julian: God bless him. She really felt he gave us a voice that was denied.

I know you did get some backlash from some organizations. Do you think they’ve seen the movie now?

I don’t think so. These people know how to attack but they don’t know how to open their minds and hearts and see something before judging it. At least try to see it.

Do you think other Palestinians look at Miral and want to tell their story now?

I think it opened the door for other filmmakers, Palestinian or not, to tell a story and to not be afraid. Yes, there might be controversy and people will be unhappy but they will be holding up a mirror for everybody about what’s going on in this country. I feel that it’s ridiculous that I’m attacked for telling a story and that I am harassed, actually, for telling that story. Am I the problem for telling this story or is the problem that this has been going on for a long time?

Are there any final thoughts you want to impart about the movie and the book?

It’s a cry for peace. I hope that people will see it for what it is, which is a cry for peace for a country that I love and care about.

Leave a Reply