Touria Khannous: Moroccan Women’s Cinema – Transnational Contexts 



In his essay “The limiting Imagination of National cinema” Andrew Higson questions whether Benedict Anderson’s concept of the nation provides a useful framework for conceptualizing national cinemas. He argues that an account of national cinema must take into consideration the transnational forms of cinematic production. Higson further contends that the communities evoked in cinema are transnational rather than national. The emergence of Moroccan women’s cinema in the last three decades needs to be situated within this theoretical framework. Over the past thirty years, Moroccan women filmmakers have emerged as a powerful creative force, contributing to what some have labeled the genre of independent transnational cinema. This paper seeks to demonstrate how films by Moroccan women filmmakers such as Farida Benlyazid, Leila Marrakshi, Nargis Najjar, Leila Kilani, Yasmina Kissari and Fatima Jebli Ouazzani construct a particular model of Moroccan cinema emerging from a globalized perspective, which is enhanced by their connection to Europe and the US, their multinational production, as well as by the significant attention they have drawn at international festivals. Their cinema has been marked not only by the local but also influenced by the global, as it draws from different cultural traditions and different ways of representing experience. Through their films, women filmmakers present a new reality in Morocco which is often perceived as “unconventional.”

The emergence of women’s cinema coincides with different developments such as the rise of globalization and of multiculturalism as well as changes in the availability of funding for independent cinema. Transnational indicates a context that cannot be reduced to one national boundary or one culture and thus implies a dynamic relationship between different cultures and national contexts. Transnational also indicates that audiences are global and that the films’ scenes undermine national ‘boundaries.’ Transnational is a more relevant term to describe Moroccan women’s cinema than the term postcolonial which according to Aijaz Ahmed emphasizes the dichotomy between former colonizer and colonized and ignores the complexity of their political relationship. Nevertheless, the premise of this paper is that Moroccan women’s cinema has been affected by global influences, and the global influence is the progression from postcolonialism, both of which are Western influenced. Thus, the films’ ideas of mobility are shaped by global forces, and the relations between cultures that characterize their narratives can only be termed global in the broadest sense. Critics such as Brian Edwards have pointed out that since the late 1980s, Moroccan cinema has abandoned the French model for the American one, as the American model has turned out to be freer, thus allowing Moroccan cinema to transcend the postcolonial and to connect to the global. Edwards claims that this new age of circulation does not signal the end of the postcolonial period because of the persistence of what he calls Moroccan ‘anxiety’ about identity.

Taking the case of Moroccan women’s films and their global circulation, the paper sheds light on the transnational themes of their narratives. One dominant theme that arises in women’s films is the trope of mobility, since they are addressing the reality of globalization. The paper looks not only at how postcolonial experience has shaped the mobility of characters who transport themselves to different places, but also at the roles that gender and sexuality play in the performance and representation of Moroccan mobilities, framing such mobilities within the context of three themes: the theme of mobility and travel, the theme of difference and desire, and the theme of circulating global commodities.

The paper first demonstrates how an engagement with the other in film can be read within the discourse of travel and space. It is also in the tropes of travel, distance and pursuit of knowledge that we see this cinema’s transnational concerns manifested. A key site of Moroccans engagement with the other in these films is mobility of characters out into foreign spaces or the mobility of the world in the form of commodities into and through Morocco. In parallel with this discourse of itinerary is an interaction with foreign spaces. As the films map journeys of Moroccan characters they also map engagements with new spaces and cultures. Mobility is central to the transnational nature of Moroccan women’s cinema and the trope of travel and mobility figures in a lot of Moroccan women’s films.

What is common to these films is also a representational strategy whereby difference becomes either an object of admiration, of derision and of desire. Moroccan women filmmakers seek ways to representing difference in terms of characters, commodities and cultural practices. This representation of difference sometimes borders on exoticism. The discourse of exoticism in these films is a discourse of borders and boundaries, which signals a transition in itself because those formerly seen as exotic are now exoticizing others, creating a new definition. By reflecting on others, they are creating new identities for themselves. Moroccan women’s films not only represent otherness, but they also document encounters with the cultural-racial other in terms of material objects and global goods. The consumption of global goods articulates a symbolic resistance for characters who flout traditional values and who represent increasing purchasing power in Morocco’s globalized marketplace, a sanctuary of modern consumer culture for those coming of age. The paper includes writings by relevant cultural critics who deal not only with transnational and postcolonial cinema such as Hamid Naficy, Ella Shoha and Brian Edwards, but also with translocality and mobility such as Steve Hochstadt, Doreen Massey, and Caren Kaplan. Drawing on the work of feminist film critics such as Mary Ann Doane, the paper examines the way gender defines the concerns of Moroccan women’s cinema, and the role it plays in its representation of mobility, further investigating the interactions between their cinema and the mobilities of new post-global Morocco. Therefore, both films and theoretical works are used in this paper to discuss the variety of ways mobility is constructed in Moroccan women’s cinema.