Cinematic Islamic feminism and the female war gaze: Reflections on Waad Al-Kataeb’s For Sama

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Mincheva, Dilyana
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Film and Screen Media, University College Cork
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One of 2019’s most acclaimed documentaries, Waad Al-Kateab’s For Sama is an extraordinary feminist representation of the Syrian civil war (2011present). Al-Kateab impressively documents five years of the most traumatic contemporary conflict in the Middle East by focusing on personal confessions to Sama, her new-born daughter. Raw, dramatic, and sometimes unbearable to watch, it is a poetic tribute to a micro-level, “singularly unmanly”, and painfully intimate portrayal of war and hope (Montgomery). A mixture of love and horror unfold through a kaleidoscopic personal narrative that broaches macro-political and religious subjects without centralising them in the cinematic experience. This article discusses how Al-Kateab’s documentary is a novel and risky experiment that intermingles the female war gaze with a subtle, image-based Islamic feminism. Capitalising on Svetlana Alexievich’s “female war gaze”, which represents the invisible stories of women in war, I show how Al-Kateab’s cinematography expands the scope of the female war experience through carefully selected visual refences to Islamic ethical praxis, as interiorised by the camerawoman. For Sama is simultaneously an intimate motherly confession and act of both “listening” and “remembrance” (as the praxis of the Sufi Samāʿ suggests). In short, it mediates an ethical truth about the human condition in ruins.
The female gaze , Syrian civil war , Islamic feminism , Feminist war narratives
Mincheva, D. (2021) 'Cinematic Islamic feminism and the female war gaze: Reflections on Waad Al-Kataeb’s For Sama', Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, 20, pp. 54-70.