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One in a million

HUMAN 2018: The Poetess
Regissør: Stefanie Brockhaus Andreas Wolff
(Tyskland, Saudi-Arabia)

In The Poetess, we get to follow the only female participant in the most popular talent show in the Middle East, who through her poetry exhibits an extraordinary courage against gender segregation.

Million's Poet is a very popular talent show that goes on TV in the Middle East. It would probably have been largely unknown in the West, had it not been for Hissa Hilal – who became a world news in 2010 as the first woman in the final when the talent show took place in the United Arab Emirates. Not only was she the first woman in the final, but she also participated in socially critical poems that criticized fatwa issued by religious leaders in her ultra-conservative homeland of Saudi Arabia.

Hilal's story has all the ingredients needed to get Western media on the hook: an exciting, recognizable notion you can call an Arabic version of Idol (though with the more sober expression of traditional poetry), and a brave heroine who challenges Saudi gender restrictions. All this while dressed in burka – the garment that covers body and face, and which has become a symbol of a culture war on identity, freedom of speech and oppression worldwide. The appeal of this unusual mix did not go unnoticed with the German directors Stefanie Brockhaus and Andreas Wolff, who made this documentary after seeing a picture of Hissa Hilal in The New York Times.

The Poetess really succeeds in uncovering a complex mindset in large parts of the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia itself.

Limited access. Access to film was all the way a problem for the directors due to the strict laws of the Saudis, but they have done an admirable job. . .

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Carmen Gray
Gray is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

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