For too long, women in film have been overshadowed and overlooked. Their valuable stories, perspective, understanding, and wisdom would often fail to receive the platforms necessary. Yes, there were a marginal few, but still, it was not the norm. However, as the world moves towards a more inclusive and empathetic future, women’s voices are being given a megaphone. Female filmmakers have more opportunities to tell their stories to the world. This year, the Oscars made history by nominating more than one female director in the Best Director category. It’s not much, but it’s progress.
Netflix has an incredible library of films by women, and more importantly, by Arab women. Here are 10 movies – and a series – all by Arab women, all available to stream on Netflix. Arab women have had to fight even harder to get their movies made, their films produced, and their important points of view shared. We can help to change that by supporting Arab female filmmakers, and watching the movies they shed sweat, blood, and tears to make. We promise it will be worth your time.
Rock the Casbah
Laila Marrakchi, Morocco
Laila Marrakchi wrote and directed Rock the Casbah, a drama about a Moroccan family that reunites after the death of the patriarch in their family (played by Omar Sharif). The story revolves around Sofia (Morjana Alaoui), the black sheep of the family that moved to Hollywood to pursue a film career, and the friction between her and her sisters who still cling to following their father’s traditional rules – even if it means marrying men they don’t love. No spoilers here, but family secrets are eventually revealed with shocking truth, nuance, and heart.
Nadine Labaki, Lebanon
Nadine Labaki won the Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival for Capernaum, and later made history as the first female Arab filmmaker to be nominated for an Oscar. In her moving film, a 12-year-old boy living in the slums of Beirut sues his parents for neglect in order to stop them from having more children they cannot support. Labaki made a brilliant and unconventional casting choice when she chose Zain Al Rafeea, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee who was living in the slums of Beirut at the time, to play the main character, whom she named after her young actor. The result is an emotional, truthful, and gut-wrenching movie that has since become the highest-grossing Arabic and Middle Eastern film of all time.
Mounia Meddour, Algeria
Papicha is the story of an aspiring Algerian fashion designer attending university in the 90s during the Algerian Civil War. When religious extremism began to take over, Nedjma – played by the talented Lyna Khoudri – finds herself caught in a battle of wills and freedoms, and decides to resist by staging a fashion show. Written and directed by Mounia Meddour, Papicha is a drama about friendship, women, and freedom.
Hind Boujemaa, Tunisia
Noura’s Dream is Hind Boujemaa‘s beautiful yet heartbreaking story about a Tunisian woman working as a hospital laundress and raising her three children. While her abusive husband is in jail, she finally meets the love of her life and gets a taste of happiness. However, her dreams are shattered when she tries to get a divorce from her incarcerated husband, only to find that he has been released, returning her to her private prison of man-made laws and patriarchy where all she can do is watch as her children become a part of the never-ending cycle.
Annemarie Jacir, Palestine
Annemarie Jacir‘s comedy-drama about a father and his estranged son traveling through Palestine to hand-deliver invitations to his daughter’s wedding is also a political stab at life for Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Jacir uses humor to peel back the layers of traditionalism, realism, idealism, and duty as the pair make their way through Nazareth at Christmas. Played by real-life father-and-son duo, Mohammad and Saleh Bakri, Wajib is a well-written movie with poignant moments as well as savage humor.
Haifaa al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia
Wadjda, the first feature film made by a female Saudi director, was written and directed by Haifaa al-Mansour. It tells the story of Wadjda, a 10-year-old Saudi girl who longs to buy a green bike so she can race her best friend, Abdullah. No one will buy the bike for her though, as riding is improper for girls, so the young girl begins to find ways to earn the money herself. Meanwhile, Wadjda’s mother is faced with the possibility of her husband marrying a second wife since she can no longer have children and he wants a son. The honest story unfolds in such a way that will leave you wishing there was a sequel.
Rana Eid, Lebanon
Rana Eid‘s documentary, Panoptic, about Lebanon’s hidden underground, came from her own experiences and traumas living in Lebanon, and reveals some horrifying aspects of a country that is trying so desperately to rebuild. The movie is compelling and critical of Lebanon, so much so that it was immediately banned in the country where it was filmed and for whom it was intended. Eid drew on her background as a sound designer for a chilling aural cinematic experience with her debut documentary, and one that will certainly bring to light what has been kept too long in the dark.
Randa Chahal Sabag, Lebanon
The Kite was Lebanese director Randa Chahal Sabag‘s biggest success, both commercially and critically. It, however, was also her last, as the director passed away in 2008. The Kite stars Flavia Bechara as Lamia, a Druze girl living in a village called Deir Mimas over the border of the pre-occupied territories of southern Lebanon. She is forced to marry her cousin Samy, who lives on the Israeli side, despite the fact that she is in love with a border soldier, Youssef. The scene of Lamia crossing the border alone in her wedding gown is a haunting image and one that sits as the cornerstone of this haunting film.
Farah Nabulsi, Palestine
The Present, directed and co-written by Farah Nabulsi, was nominated for Best Short Film in the 2021 Academy Awards. Palestinian actor, Bakri, stars again in this film about a father and daughter trying to buy a wedding anniversary present, and the obstacles they encounter to performing such a simple task because they live in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Nabulsi shot on location, sometimes with guerilla shooting, and the film depicts the real-life struggle of Palestinians at the various and overcrowded checkpoints as they simply try to cross a few miles to do things we take for granted in our everyday life.
Hana Alomair, Saudi Arabia
While Whispers is actually a drama-thriller series, we still wanted to add it to our list because it is a first of its kind in that it is lead by Saudi award-winning director, Hana Alomair, but it is the first Saudi Arabian thriller series — full stop. The series is about a family facing the death of their patriarch, Hassan, just as his mysterious past begins to resurface days before the launch of a smart app owned by the family business. The series keeps you guessing with just enough nuggets in each of its eight episodes to keep you hooked.