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  • Muslim Women in French Cinema: Voices of Maghrebi Migrants in France by Leslie Kealhofer-Kemp
  • Greta Bliss
Leslie Kealhofer-Kemp. Muslim Women in French Cinema: Voices of Maghrebi Migrants in France. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2015. Pp. 226.

This book fills a lacuna in previous scholarship on immigration and ethnicity in French cinema. Building on work in feminist and film studies, sociology, and ethnography, Kealhofer-Kemp shifts the historic focus by documenting cinematic depictions of the generation of Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian women who migrated to France in the 1960s and 1970s, usually as the spouses of economic migrants or of harkis, and many of whom became parents to the more highly visible "beur" generation. Though first-generation women have often been consigned to a real or imagined status of invisibility due to the intersectional barriers they faced, their influence is perceptible at myriad levels in cinema and contemporary culture. Through careful examination of a broad corpus of over sixty films produced between 1978 and 2014, Kealhofer-Kemp traces the figure of the Maghrebi woman migrant across multiple genres, whether as documentary subject or as recurrent fictional character. Collectively, these depictions form a complex picture of first-generation Maghrebi women migrants' historical agency.

The concept of voice, which Kealhofer-Kemp adroitly defines from the outset, structures her inquiry. In close, concise readings of a wide range of films, the author demonstrates how directors, actors, and storylines combine to reflect or challenge mainstream discourse on ethnic identity and cultural assimilation in France. This analysis dovetails with her discussion of recurrent intergenerational themes, such as tensions between first-generation mothers and their "beur" children. Yet even as Kealhofer-Kemp attends to the overarching sociological and historical conditions influencing both filmmakers and the public, her close readings reveal important nuances in how films have variously positioned Maghrebi woman migrant characters in relation to their households, families, and communities.

The study's four chapters are organized by genre, each offering a different angle on the question of voice. Chapter one emphasizes the constructedness of documentaries, situating examples according to the degree of narrative autonomy directors accord to their subjects. In Chapter Two, on short films, Kealhofer-Kemp theorizes how some filmmakers deploy objects, rather than melodrama or dialogue, to symbolize women's agency in navigating complex linguistic, cultural, and physical boundaries. Chapter Three draws on spectatorship data and reception theory to highlight the influence of films within the previously less-studied genre of téléfilms (made-for-TV full-length movies), which can reach up to 8–10 million viewers. In Chapter Four, treating a selection of well-known feature films (such as Yamina Benguigui's Inch'Allah dimanche) alongside some less well-known ones, Kealhofer-Kemp considers how verbal and non-verbal forms of communication further enlarge and differentiate the concept of voice. Rounded out with the author's suggestions for future research and a generous appendix classifying the film corpus by archival location and level of access, this study offers a rich compendium of resources and analyses for scholars working on French film and cultural studies across an array of disciplines. [End Page 145]

Greta Bliss
University of North Carolina Wilmington


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