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MSU Cinema International Presents Double-Header Exploring Female Stereotypes in Middle East

"Girls of the Sun" is the first of two featured films presented by MSU Cinema International. The one-time screening will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 22nd, in the Curris Center Theater.

Murray State's Cinema International program continues its Fall 2020 series on gender representation with two featured films, Girls of the Sun and The Cave. Program director, Dr. Thérèse St. Paul, and assistant professor of history, Dr. Christine Lindner, discuss the upcoming screenings with Tracy Ross.

MSU Cinema International will present Girls of the Sun Thursday, October 22nd. From theCinema International website:

"This is the first war movie made by a woman, about a woman war reporter reporting about women fighters. Somewhere in Kurdistan, Bahar, commander of the "Girls of the Sun" battalion, is preparing to liberate her hometown from the hands of extremists. A French journalist, Mathilde, comes to cover the attack and bear witness to the story of these exceptional warriors fighting for women, life, and liberty. Applauded at Cannes, then criticized, this movie is breaking stereotypes and taboos."

"Some of the criticism...found [Girls of the Sun to be] sentimental," St. Paul begins. "Of course, not everybody agrees, but it still appears. When women are focused on and when they step into a domain that is primarily masculine, they are outstepping in a way. It's very interesting that when men are described showing sentiment in war movies -- I'm thinking Saving Private Ryan -- they care about their fellow man. That is heroic. When women are focused on in showing their view, their female gaze on how it is to be in war, then it becomes sentimental. I think there is some prejudice there...that needs to be discussed."

"I think that we're missing a lot of the historical context in which the gender binaries that are being talked about...are kind of collapsed," Lindner adds. "Whether it's the Kurds or some of these other [heterodox] communities, we have a much longer history of women's involvement in lots of different parts of society. Whether it's as victims of war, as participating in the war, and for so many years, I think that the narrative that women being at the home exploded from being actively engaged in politics and combats is a problematic binary that seems to be repeatedly drawn upon or repurposed in Euro-American narratives."

"For example," Lindner continues, "in the 1960s, '70s, you see women, particularly in the Cold War context, fighting. We see women in the Iran revolution having very prominent power, prominent roles, and yet, we seem to forget about this. While we agree on the one hand, sure, let's have models of empowerment. Of course, we want to fight against misogyny, particularly against Daesh [the local term for ISIS]...but I think we need to be mindful that we're erasing a long, complex history about the development of these gender roles."

"The narratives of this gender binary where women are at the home, disempowered -- that's also the narrative that...Daesh wants to be as the narrative. If we say that women have no rights or women should not be in public, that's also the narrative that the Daesh wants. People within the region, of course, they know about these different stories."

The erasure of women's history in political and wartime movements is most commonly found within Euro-American popular culture, Lindner explains. "There are two things going on here in the erasure of these women: it's in the Western narrative, and it's also in the Islamist narrative. I think if we only focus on these two narratives, they're kind of saying the same thing. And that's what I find problematic being a scholar of the Middle East."

MSU Cinema International will also present The Cave this weekend on Saturday, October 24th, in the Curris Center Theater. From the Cinema International website:

"Winner of the People's Choice Award for Documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival, The Cave is the story of humanitarian doctor, Amani Ballour, and how she and her team battle sexism and risk their lives every day to provide medical support in an underground hospital for the residents of a Syrian city. "It's an active observational grounding of the audience into a truth you have to see to believe...a portrait of humankind at both its worst and best." (IMDb) Directed by Oscar nominee Feras Fayyad (Last Men in Aleppo), this is a tremendous film that, Variety notes, has a "defiantly countering sense of hope." (Picturemotion)"

"The Cave has been overwhelmingly accepted," St. Paul says. "The public eye sees it as, I think, falling in line with the image we have of the situation in Syria. It's focused on a female doctor and how she does battle sexism and provides her help to the city under attack. It doesn't shock or disturb the way that Girls of the Sun might have in terms of the position of women in war."

"I think an important comparison to be made, that I think does a better job at challenging typical Euro-American views of Middle Eastern women, is that you have on the one hand [in Girls of the Sun] a woman lawyer who is now joining the army to become a fighter," Lindner says. "In the second movie, you have a Muslim doctor who, again, is serving. To me, that's what's more important to be focusing on here."

"When we look at Western stereotypes of Muslim women and Arab women, we often don't see them as being middle-class, educated women in leadership. Both of these movies powerful women have become through these roles of education and through professionalism. I think that's an important takeaway. If you take anything from this weekend's movies, take that way," Lindner concludes. 

Both films will be presented on the third floor of the Curris Center at 7:30 p.m. For more information on Murray State's Cinema International program, including the rest of the Fall 2020 schedule, visit their website.

Tracy started working for WKMS in 1994 while attending Murray State University. After receiving his Bachelors and Masters degrees from MSU he was hired as Operations/Web/Sports Director in 2000. Tracy hosted All Things Considered from 2004-2012 and has served as host/producer of several music shows including Cafe Jazz, and Jazz Horizons. In 2001, Tracy revived Beyond The Edge, a legacy alternative music program that had been on hiatus for several years. Tracy was named Program Director in 2011 and created the midday music and conversation program Sounds Good in 2012 which he hosts Monday-Thursday. Tracy lives in Murray with his wife, son and daughter.
Melanie Davis-McAfee graduated from Murray State University in 2018 with a BA in Music Business. She has been working for WKMS as a Music and Operations Assistant since 2017. Melanie hosts the late-night alternative show Alien Lanes, Fridays at 11 pm with co-host Tim Peyton. She also produces Rick Nance's Kitchen Sink and Datebook and writes Sounds Good stories for the web.
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