As in real life, women’s rights in the Arab world have become a hot topic in cinema. One of the latest examples of this trend is Inshallah A Boy, which recently premiered to award-winnning raves at the Cannes Film Festival. In this powerful work of social realism, a widow faces the archaic laws of her Jordanian society, as she fights for her rightful inheritence in a country where men are favored. For director Amjad Al-Rasheed, the oppresive patriarchy highlighted in the film hit close to home, as explained in a recent chat with Awards Radar, where he discussed the inspiration and intentions behind the story.
Shane Slater: What inspired you to make this film?
Amjad Al-Rasheed: I have a close relative of mine, who was almost in the same situation of my main character. And when that happened to her I had this question, “What if she says no? What if she decides to fight and what are her options? Is it logical that we are still ruled with the laws that were created 1000 years ago?” All these questions fuelled the idea of Inshallah A Boy.
SS: Your lead actress was phenomenal in this role. How did you know she would be the right actress to play this role? And what was it like working with her to craft this character?
AAR: Mouna Hawa is a Palestinian actress. She lives in Palestine and I live in Jordan. So I saw some previous work for her new Palestinian films. And I was amazed by her talent. But that was not enough. So I met Mouna two years before we went into pre–production and I wanted to know more about her as a human being. That was very important for me. To understand her personality, her perspective. And it’s not only Mouna. Most of the actors that I cast it for the film, I wanted to find a right balance between all of them. So I had to understand them as human beings and also to understand the body language. It was very important for me to understand how they move their eyes, how they move the hands, how they stand up, how they sit down.
So all of that was part of the casting. The casting phase for me, thanks to the producers, they gave me all of that time. Like two years to to explore more options and see more people and more talent, in order to have this bouquet of very talented actors. And that helped me also to understand and find the keys for each person, each talent to each actor and actress. So I can know how to motivate them to give me the right emotion at the right moment during the rehearsals and during the shooting on set.
SS: What was the writing process like? Did the script change significantly?
AAR: The core of the story stayed the same. It never changed. It’s about this woman, her struggle, and her fight. Of course, it got developed in four or five years, but I had the final shooting draft 10 days before the pre-production. So I kept changing and worked it out with my producer Rula Nasser. She is a co-writer with me along with Delphine Agut. So we collaborated on developing this story for a good time, and I think the result was good.
SS: Your film has now premiered at Cannes. What was that experience like for you?
AAR: It’s Cannes, it’s big, it’s huge. Of course, it’s the first Jordanian movie at Cannes. And it’s my first feature film in Cannes. So it’s crazy. It’s super exciting, I’m super happy. I think it’s the best way to open and for the film to start the next journey, which is to be seen by audience, critics and people. The reaction was amazingly great. We are getting super good feedback, great reviews and beautiful reactions from people who I’ve felt got really involved with the story and with the characters.
SS: I assume this will eventually be shown in Jordan. What do you anticipate the response would be like? Do you think they’re ready to embrace this film?
AAR: I hope so. But as you know, everything has two sides. Some people will like it, some people will be against it. But I hope it will open a conversation. I hope it will raise questions or the questions that I want to raise throughout the movie. It will help to open a conversation.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]