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Reviewed by:
  • Rap Refugees: Conservative Palestinian Education in Flux
  • Fida Adely (bio)
Rap Refugees: Conservative Palestinian Education in Flux by The Open University, 2009 (60 minutes). In Arabic and English, subtitled. A Films for the Humanities and Sciences release. Documentary.

Rap Refugees is an engaging film that centers on a girls’ secondary school in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria. The film profiles the lives of several students—Shaza and Rahaf, who are two aspiring rap musicians; Sa’fa, who is an athlete; and Tulin, a member of the Palestinian Children’s Orchestra—and their family and friends. Rap Refugees is the second in a two-part series about schools in Damascus. The first film—Syrian School: Mirror of a Changing Society—featured three government schools in Damascus. The location of the school is a defining feature in this film, because much of what gets discussed by students (95 percent of whom are Palestinian) and adults alike is the refugee experience. The girls talk about Palestine and the hopes and dreams that they link to the homeland they have never seen, but which continues to be [End Page 188] an important component of their education and one measure by which their activities are evaluated by themselves and others—for example, how will rap, sports, or classical music contribute to the Palestinian cause?

Each of the young women finds both support for and resistance to their various extra-curricular activities. Shaza and Rahaf are generally supported by their parents in performing rap, but their principal will not let them perform at the Yarmouk school. The principal also voices concerns when the girls begin hanging out at an aspiring male rap artist’s apartment. Eventually, however, the principal relents and lets the girls perform for their class, with the principal herself in attendance. As for the classmates of Shaza and Rahaf, some of them encourage the girls, while others find rap to be too foreign for their tastes.

Early on in the film, Sa’fa’s father conveys opposition to her efforts to secure an athletic scholarship to study in another city. However, we soon learn that her paternal grandmother is taking her to extra practices to prepare her for a national competition, and near the end of the film her entire family comes to cheer her on for an important event. Tulin has the full support of her father, who defines himself as more liberal than other fathers. At school, Tulin faces trouble for breaking school rules, but her music is sanctioned. Her musical group is prestigious, the musical instrument she plays is indigenous, and the orchestra is supported by the state. In this way, her experience is an interesting contrast to that of Shaza and Rahaf.

Overall, this is a well-done film, particularly in that it provides space for the young women profiled in the film to articulate their own thoughts, desires, and struggles. The greatest strength of this film is the way in which it captures the ordinary dimensions of daily life in a girls’ high school. We see the girls fooling around in class, being reprimanded by their teachers, and encouraging and criticizing one another. Such scenes enable the viewer to see these girls not as oppressed beings, but as teenage girls having fun, trying to fit in, and, in some cases, determined to go against the grain. Given the space to express themselves, the girls are vibrant and articulate.

Having said this, the title of the film is ambiguous on two counts. First, what does it mean to say “conservative Palestinian education”? Is education in this school “conservative” because it is Palestinian or Arab, and to what is this education being compared in designating it as conservative? The filmmakers may be signaling shifting gender norms with this title, as some of the challenges faced by these young women—for example, by Sa’fa the athlete—are clearly gendered. However, as the film itself shows, gender norms are varied within the community, and the objections to rap have as much to do with the musical form as with gender. The filmmakers’ adeptness in depicting this heterogeneity is one of its strengths.

Second, I understand that rap...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2151-7371
Print ISSN
2151-7363
Pages
pp. 188-190
Launched on MUSE
2011-12-17
Open Access
No
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