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‘Miral’: When Good Publicity Trumps Bad Reviews


“Miral” is a film that has garnered an inordinate amount of media attention. In interviews, the director, Julian Schnabel, defends his right to tell the Palestinian “narrative” for what he claims is the first time. He seems not to know that many others before him have specialized in this particular line of work.

Based on the lives of four Palestinian women, “Miral” begins with the period just before Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 and ends just before the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993.

The first woman is Miral’s mother, Nadia, who was battered and raped either by her uncle, husband, or boyfriend and then jailed by the Israelis for hitting an Israeli woman. Thereafter, Nadia commits suicide by walking into the sea. Miral’s father or stepfather puts her in an orphanage. (These facts are purposely vague, and therefore, presumably unimportant, certainly far less important in terms of trauma than the “Israeli occupation” or the all-powerful misery at the checkpoints.)

The second woman is Hind al-Husseini, (whose story is presented first), the founder of the Dar Al-Tifel home for Palestinian orphans; the third woman is Miral, raised in the orphanage and coming of age during the first Palestinian Intifada (1987-1993); the fourth woman, Fatima, is a female Palestinian terrorist who is serving three life sentences. Fatima blew up a movie theater somewhere in Israel but is presented as a sympathetic figure who worked as a nurse in a hospital for Arab soldiers injured in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The stories of the four women are only loosely and awkwardly connected; the film is not really “about” anything other than the evil and inhumanity of the “Israeli military occupation” which each of the women has faced. Fatima says: “The occupation is a monster which eats your soul.”

To recap: Miral’s mother Nadia is an alcoholic and the victim of sexual violence; she commits suicide by drowning herself in the Mediterranean. Miral’s adoptive father then dumps Miral in an orphanage. But none of this is called on to explain Miral’s pain and anger. Instead, the film depicts the evil Israeli occupation as the cause of all of Miral’s suffering.

Actually, the film doesn’t show Miral suffering very much at all (until she gets involved with terrorism, at which point she is savagely beaten in an Israeli detention center). She has a doting father, a romantic and sexy boyfriend, a nurturing educational environment, and the freedom to roam the beautiful Palestinian countryside.

Miral’s hatred of Israelis and Jews seems totally contrived.

Scenes that depict Israeli life (e.g., classic footage from Israel’s declaration of independence and the celebrations that followed, etc.) are in black and white. All the scenes depicting Palestinian life of any era are presented in lush and living color. Israelis – soldiers and civilians alike – are depicted as despicable, including an Israeli buffoon who drunkenly accosts Miral’s mother in a bar and an Israeli woman who calls her an “Arab whore.” All of the Palestinian characters are warm and physically beautiful.

At the end of the film Miral asks: Why can’t Israel/Palestine be like New York City? And this is the point. The main characters are not Arab Palestinians. They are brown people who think and talk like Americans and are masquerading as Palestinians. It is impossible to learn anything about Palestinian culture by watching “Miral” because the film’s entire point is to make viewers think Palestinians are “just like us.” Only the Israelis are different.

Reviews of “Miral” have been almost uniformly negative. Expecting that bad reviews might dog the film’s progress, and given the film’s enormous potential as propaganda both in the West and in the Islamic world, Schnabel’s publicists worked overtime, at least in the New York City area.

Thus, on March 23, two days before the film opened, an interview with the director; his girlfriend-author, Rula Jebreal; and the film’s leading lady, Freida Pinto, of Slumdog Millionaire fame, appeared on the front page of The New York Times Arts section. The nearly 2,000-word piece was illustrated with three photos.

On March 24 Schnabel was again interviewed by the Times, this time on the front page of the paper’s Style section. The 1,296-word piece displayed three (different) photos – including one of the director standing with Vanessa Redgrave, the great actress and notorious pro-Palestinian activist, who had a cameo appearance in the film.

On March 25, Schnabel and/or director John Kilik or distributor Harvey Weinstein paid for a full-page New York Times ad for the film and for a full-page reprint of the only positive review of the film I have been able to find (at least so far).

The review was written by Danielle Berrin for the Los Angeles-based Jewish Journal and comes to 1,024 words. Berrin perhaps tries to drum up sales by suggesting the film has already earned the “ire” and “condemnation” of the organized Jewish community, which will only impede or delay the “peace process” or, in more hopeful Hollywood terms, lead to controversy, publicity, and ticket sales.

Also on March 25, the Times reviewed the film. A.O. Scott did not much like it, but took more than 900 words to say so. And yes, yet another photo accompanied the review.

Thus, in three days this film and its director received more than 5,000 well-placed words and eight photos in The New York Times. And in roughly the same time period, (mainly negative) reviews and (mainly positive) interviews with the director appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Jewish Week, the New York Post and the Forward.

Despite strong objections from the Israeli deputy ambassador, the film was formally screened on March 14 at the United Nations. (A showing of the film and post-viewing conversation with Schnabel set for the 92nd Street Y on March 31 was canceled due, according to the Y, to a “scheduling conflict.”)

In sum, this is a film that, though far from an artistic masterpiece and filled with lie after lie, may – given its Manhattan-style publicity and politically correct views – enjoy a long and profitable life on campuses, at interfaith, international, and civil rights conferences and at film festivals.

“Miral” may live on to poison the minds of yet another unsuspecting generation.

Dr. Phyllis Chesler, who would like to acknowledge the contribution to this essay of her assistant Nathan Bloom, is co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology and the National Women’s Health Network as well as the author of many works including “Women and Madness” (1972) and “The New Anti-Semitism” (2003). She can be contacted through her website, www.phyllis-chesler.com.

About the Author: Dr. Phyllis Chesler is a professor emerita of psychology, a Middle East Forum fellow, and the author of fifteen books including “Women and Madness” (1972), “The New Anti-Semitism” (2003), and her latest, “An American Bride in Kabul” (2013). Her articles are archived at www.phyllis-chesler.com.


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