Cherien Dabis’ ’09 work of dramatic tragedy, Amreeka is tiers above the expectations of a realistic immigration tale of a mother and son from Palestine making America their new home base. In an astonishingly un-American direction, casting of this film showed proper Palestinian representation with the lead roles being portrayed by Arab actors.
Nisreen Faour plays Muna Farah, a divorced single mother who risks it all for the betterment of her teenage son Fadi (Melkar Muallem)’s upbringing. They wander into Illinois twenty-five-hundred dollars short with a pile of luggage and an ever-present yearning for home. Nevertheless, they find home in Muna’s sister, Raghda (Hiam Abass), her husband, Nabeel (Yussuf Abu-Warda) and Muna’s two nieces.
Amreeka is quick to reveal that the American Dream is not all it’s cracked up to be for the immigrant population — a tough thing to do without coating the plot in pity for its protagonists. Dabis is careful not to soften the blow of the reality of so many immigrant families without making the Farah’s out to be a charity case. Set less than a decade into the post-9/11 era, Amreeka tackles plot points surrounding prejudice TSA regulations on Arab or Arab-appearing flyers, the pressure to assimilate into American culture in the American high school system, and terrorism. Dabis’ film raises questions about who the real terrorists were during the Iraq invasion when it hits us with news of the US dropping 38 bombs in 30 minutes.
There is no sugarcoating in this film, other than perhaps the convenient placement of Principal Novatski (Joseph Ziegler) who feels too conveniently placed to serve any other purpose than to be that One Exception to the xenophobic white man rule. Had this film been white-washed, Fadi would have been a background character in his own coming of age story — a pitied “nerd” who hadn’t been shown the ropes. Instead, Amreeka gives its viewers the full spectrum of every character’s narrative. It’s not meant to brighten your day, but it does shed some light on the parts of America it likes to keep at bay, in the shadows.
Before looking at the ratings, however, I knew how this film would be treated in mass media. Sure, the critiques are great, but considering I had never heard of this film despite it being so groundbreaking in accurate representation of immigration into the U.S., it definitely didn’t get the coverage it deserved. Americans aren’t interested in watching movies that leave a bad taste in their mouths, or a question hanging in the air about what the U.S. is really like. IMDb ranks this film a 7 out of 10 but Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 87% which I think is rather fitting.
Representation-wise, I’m giving Amreeka a 5/5 stars.
Plot-wise, thanks to the distracting use of a Mr. Novatski, I’m giving it 4 / 5 stars.