This news article about the animated film, “Persepolis,” being aired in Tunisia is from a few weeks ago, but I hadn’t had the chance to blog about it yet. It is especially interesting now that we know the Ennahda party has won a majority of seats in the Tunisian constitutional assembly.
Broadcast of an Animated Film Roils Tunisia Before Elections
TUNIS — In the final week of the first election campaign of the Arab Spring, political discourse here in Tunisia has been all but consumed by contention over the television broadcast of an animated film, “Persepolis,” which touched off accusations of heresy and censorship. In a campaign that people here often describe in terms of a choice between East and West, the debate has come closer than any poll to identifying the political center, underscoring why so many expect a victory for Tunisia’smainstream Islamist party, Ennahda.
The episode began when a relatively small group of ultraconservative Islamists attacked the television station that had broadcast the 2007 film, about a Muslim girl growing up in post-revolutionary Iran, because of a scene in which she rails at God. He is depicted as she imagines him, violating an Islamic injunction against personifying him.
But it soon became clear that ultraconservatives were hardly the only ones offended. The broadcast has touched a nerve among a far broader section of Tunisia’s Muslims, even in the coastal regions where many pride themselves on their cosmopolitanism.
The film is originally French and portrays many different issues including sex, drugs and Muslim identity. It also shows the main character’s imaginary personification of God, which is against the religion’s traditions. The movie is meant to be a critic of post-revolutionary Iran and focuses on a sort of Westernization of the main character who leaves Iran to live in Europe.
This is an interesting case through which we can talk about hybridity. In class, we decided that hybridity is more about a practice than it is a black and white definition. Therefore, we have to talk about it in terms of how it is made and understood as a reflection of its hybridity.
Persepolis juxtaposes the two supposed sides- the Middle East and the West, and its showing in post-revolutionary Tunisia became controversial because there is a similar debate going on in Tunisian society. It involves speculation over whether the new Tunisian government will be Islamic or secular.
The article mentions that the film was shown in colloquial Tunisian Arabic, instead of its original French, which is one main reason why it was so controversial. It quotes a Tunisia student: “If it was in French, it would be O.K., maybe because it would seem foreign to you,” said Eya Trabelsi, 21, a sociology student who said she supported Ennahda. “But for people who speak Arabic, that is not O.K.”
This is an instance of an attempt at hybridity that did not work. It is fascinating because the outside perspective would assume this film would be a popular point of discussion since the themes are prevalent in Tunisian culture, but instead it was appalling to the culture because it is 1) such as hot topic and 2) an insult to the most prevalent religion in society.