As fans of the soon-to-be-revived ’90s show “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, the phrase “sandstorm” has a specific meaning around here. But despite that, and despite the fact that we didn’t really care for the last Bedouin movie we saw, we trundled off to see this tale of female disempowerment. Which brings me to this little rant.
Every Labor Day, we get to hear the sleazy criminal bosses known as union leaders repeatedly say “you’re welcome for 40 hour work weeks” and “you’re welcome for weekends”, and not once in the mainstream media does anyone ever say to these SOBs: “Hey, if unions are so great and do so much for people, how about you work your magic in a country that needs it?” They can only seem to perform these economic feats of magic where the behind-the-scenes hard work of the free market has succeeded. So, Indonesia, you’re outta luck. Up yours, Malaysia! China? Don’t make me laugh. It’s already a worker’s paradise, right?
And what I couldn’t help noticing, in this tale of barbarians living barbaric lives and treating their girls like chattel, was an utter absence of feminists. The all-powerful feminism, which allows women to do whatever they want—and apparently men pretending to be women to do whatever they want, but not necessarily women pretending to be men?—can do nothing about a world where, in fact, they’re not already pretty much permitted to do whatever they want. There’s no Beyoncé here, though there is some pop music (that we don’t hear) that our lead character worries her mother might find inappropriate.
Anyway, rant over, and this is a really, really fine film. Our heroine, Layla (newcomer Lamis Ammar) is the apple of her father’s eye. He indulges her, treats her with respect, lets her drive a car (though only when no one is watching), and when the movie opens, daddy Suliman is about to marry wife #2. Jalila, Wife #1, is a bitter old crone, so you can sort of see why, and Layla’s contempt for her is transferred effectively to the audience. What does mom know, after all? We even get a glimpse into Suliman’s honeymoon suite, which is far nicer than the hovel Layla lives in with her mother and three sisters.
Things take a turn south when Jalila ends up with Layla’s phone when her secret boyfriend calls. We’re never actually privvy to the whys and wherefores of the shame of this, but apparently, the boy is a member of a different tribe, and this is the worst imaginable sin, just about. Jalila tries to warn her daughter that Suliman isn’t going to be as understanding as Layla thinks he is, but the brilliance of the movie is played out as we end up doing a complete 180 on how we see all the characters.
No spoilers but this is a deeply dysfunctional culture that should be eradicated as quickly as possible.
It’s not fun. It’s not just the soul-crushing abuse of women, it’s the complete abdication of humanity among men, too. At every turn, Suliman (right before doing something awful) says that he has no choice. He’s a weak man, to be sure, but that doesn’t make him any less right about not having a choice. Because, yes, it is awful, and it is ongoing, and it is entrenched.
And all the Beyoncé in the world ain’t gonna change that.