Miral: A New Movie About Muslims and Israelis

At a time when politicians are stoking the flames of hate, we felt the need to make a film about understanding the Palestinian narrative. Perhaps predictably, our critics are furious.

Frida Pinto, left, in a still from the film "Miral". (Photo Courtesy of The Weinstein Company)

Two events taking place within weeks of each other this month illustrate the complex and sometimes difficult history of Arabs and Muslims in America. On Thursday, Congress launched an investigation into the American-Muslim community that many observers have likened to a McCarthyite witch-hunt, and on March 25, Miral, a mainstream American film with a Palestinian protagonist, will have its U.S. theatrical premiere in New York and Los Angeles.

Led by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, the congressional hearings risk becoming a platform for the dissemination of anti-Muslim prejudice and bigotry. King, who once told an interviewer that there are "too many mosques in this country," has a history of spreading inflammatory falsehoods about Muslims, including the claim that as many as 85 percent of mosques in the U.S. are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists.

At a time when we are witnessing historic, nonviolent, democratic revolutions taking place across the heart of the Muslim world, it is ironic and sad that King and others who share his odious views are being allowed to shape the national dialogue on issues that are of such urgency. It is particularly galling to us because our film Miral—a sober and deeply emotional portrayal of Arab and Muslim issues—may not reach the audience we think it deserves in this climate. Its message may be drowned by controversy and muffled by anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Based on the autobiographical novel by Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal, Miral tells the story of three generations of Palestinian women, and in particular an orphaned Palestinian girl, as they navigate the personal and political landscapes of their times, starting with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, through the first nonviolent Palestinian uprising against Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1987, to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Miral is not a documentary or a polemic; it is a window into the lives of Palestinians, whose voices have gone unheard in the United States for far too long. It tells the story of Palestine from the point of view of Palestinians, which makes some people very uncomfortable.

Indeed, before making Miral, we ourselves knew very little about the experiences of Palestinians and their history. Having grown up Jewish in the U.S., our families had deep connections to Israel and Zionism and we were rarely, if ever, exposed to the other side. It is ironic that perhaps only a Jewish filmmaker could make such a film about Palestinians in the political climate of the U.S. today.

Unless the Palestinian narrative is finally understood and acknowledged by Israelis and their American supporters, there will never be peace in the Holy Land.

Some in our community have refused to see the film; it has been accused of being "anti-Semitic," "anti-Israel," and a "promotion of Hamas." In reality, Miral cannot be categorized in simplistic terms like "pro-Palestinian" or "anti-Israel." If anything, it is pro-understanding and pro-peace. It would seem that any film that treats Palestinians as three-dimensional characters is bound to be smeared by those who insist on reducing this conflict to us vs. them. Such a worldview demands that the Palestinian story, told through Palestinian voices, remains taboo. Indeed, just this week we appealed the MPAA's R-rating of Miral, which we were convinced was a result of the film's political content—and its unapologetic portrayal of the Palestinian point of view—and little else. Had we not succeeded in overturning the decision we could have been left with a situation in which a 16 year old is able to pick up a newspaper and be exposed to hate-filled anti-Muslim views but would not be able to go to a neighborhood multiplex to see the true-life story of another 16 year old, whose nonviolent struggle for freedom and dignity stands in stark contrast to the vile rhetoric about Arabs and Middle Easterners.

Unless the Palestinian narrative is finally understood and acknowledged by Israelis and their American supporters, there will never be peace in the Holy Land.

Understanding the "other" requires us to step out of our comfort zones, to see ourselves in them. When an Israeli or a Jewish American can watch a film that features a Palestinian father sick with worry over his young daughter's future and they identify with that father, with his concern, we are one small step closer to peace. And by refusing to stoke the flames of Islamophobia here in America and beginning to truly see American Muslims as no different than Americans of any other faith, we are one step closer to fully realizing the values upon which our country was built.

In the early days of Hollywood, many Jewish filmmakers and movie-industry executives felt compelled to change their names and disguise their Jewish identities in response to widespread anti-Semitism. Like many American Muslims today, they came to this country in search of a better life for themselves and their children, attracted by the noble American values of freedom and tolerance. Regrettably, the spectacle of anti-Muslim sentiment that we are witness to today is an echo of the anti-Semitism of yesterday.

Last month, two of King's Republican colleagues took part in a rally in Orange County in which American Muslims were told to "Go back home!" and children were taunted with jeers of "terrorist." This kind of racist incitement doesn't take place in a vacuum: It can have very real and tragic consequences by creating an atmosphere in which decent, patriotic, law-abiding American Muslims are viewed as the enemy and become targets.

Instead of indulging in race-baiting and the scapegoating of American Muslims, if King and his supporters truly want to understand American Muslims and their views, seeing Miral might be a good place to start. As Julian's daughter Lola says, "After all, aren't we all pink inside?"

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J ulian Schnabel, director of Miral , was nominated for an Academy Award for his film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Harvey Weinstein is co-chairman of The Weinstein Company.

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