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The roles of teens played by teenage actors and Arab women writing and directing a series about Arab girls - Al Rawabi School for Girls is all this and more!
The roles of teens played by teenage actors and Arab women writing and directing a series about Arab girls – Al Rawabi School for Girls is all this and more!
Last weekend, I didn’t have much to do and like any other bored millennial, I turned to Netflix to provide me with some entertainment and boy! Did it do that!
I found this mini-series titled Al Rawabi School for Girls and its description read ‘Bullied outcasts at the prestigious Al Rawabi School for Girls plot a series of risky takedowns to get back at their tormentors.’ and if you know me, you’d know I was intrigued. So I sat down to watch it and trust me, this series is something else.
The series set in the Jordanian capital of Amman has you hooked from the first scene and when it also sets its tone – it’s not going to be a pretty watch. It will stay with you long after you’re done watching it and it will at times disturb you too, but you’d be unable to stop watching it. (Wow, I am making it sound so ominous!)
In the first scene, you see a school-girl being beaten up by a couple of unknown girls after receiving a mysterious text to meet them near an abandoned old school bus. The girl who we later find is Mariam, our narrator, falls down, hits her head and a trickle of blood flows from her head before the name of the series is shown in bright bubblegum pink letters – a stark contrast to what you just saw.
The school is essentially ‘run’ by a trio of the cold and cunning Layan, her best friend – bold and slightly rebellious Rania and their enabler Roqayya, who sometimes stands out of the three but is just as evil. Three together mostly bully Mariam and her best friend Dina. There’s one more important character in the series – Noaf, the new girl who befriends Mariam and Dina. Noaf is the misfit with her multiple piercings, blue streaked hair and edgy jewellery.
Tired of constantly being bullied by the Mean Girl-esque trio, Mariam vows to take down her bullies.
And that’s all I am saying!
There’s a number of things about the show that you could relate to – for one, it wasn’t an outdated show – it could easily have been set in 2021! And though it IS an Arab series, the girls could’ve been school girls from absolutely anywhere. It doesn’t pander to ANY Arab stereotypes and of all the main characters, only Roqayya is the one wearing a scarf that covers her head.
They have the freedom to wear either long or knee-length skirts as their uniforms and when they’re at home, their clothes are what you and I would wear. (This is what happens when women write women!)
I loved the fact that they didn’t go ahead and show them as the hijab-wearing submissive females! Yes, they are elite – their school is fancy, their homes fancier but underneath it all, they are teenage girls who could’ve easily been girls at your school.
Now let me tell you exactly why I loved the series and why it stayed with me. For one, it was the first-ever Arab series that I ever saw and what a first series it was! Secondly, it wasn’t just written and directed by women but upon some digging, I found out that it also had an almost all-women cast!
Now you know that it’s going to show the girls as your regular teens, as opposed to the hyper-sexualised ones. And thirdly, the actors were pretty much all recent high school graduates – they weren’t older women playing teens – they were teens playing the role of teens! And finally, the topic itself – bullying and the systemic ignorance of the same by the teachers.
The writers Tima Shomali and Shirin Kamal have written a series that is deeply impactful while being disturbing in a way that it makes you think. At no point does the show get even borderline preachy. It shows you the reality just as it is – the positives, the negatives and the grey zones.
The reason it resonated with me so much was because it kept pulling me back to when I was in class 10th. No, I wasn’t bullied and no, I didn’t bully anyone, but I did nothing to stop it either. I let one girl in my class get bullied – every single day. And till today, I regret it. I was an enabler.
When I was in school, I was one of the ‘popular girls’ at school – I was the class monitor, the house captain (or something), I played sports, I took part in quizzes, I debated. (Yeah, I was one of those!) And I also had a big group of friends.
Anyway, in class 10, a new girl joined our school. She came from Tamil Nadu and barely spoke any English and spoke NO Hindi at all. And since ours was a school run by the South Indian Education Society, this was no biggie.
When she joined, I did my best to make her feel welcome and soon, she made friends with some of the other girls in my class and that was pretty much it. I’d say hi and the occasional greeting to her but we weren’t friends and life went on… until December when we’d have our Annual Day at school, somehow someone found out that this new girl, let’s just call her G, had a crush on a guy that one of my friends’ liked. And that was it. From that day forth till March, she was relentlessly bullied every day. She was fat-shamed. She was called names, mostly in Hindi. She was teased. It was endless.
They made her cry. They made her feel lonely and I can’t even imagine the horrors she went through because of that one stupid crush. I don’t remember if she retaliated or if she just let it happen. I think she cried once and maybe lashed out one other time.
And another time, she tried to – she came to school one day with a bandage wrapped around her left palm, where she’d tried to hurt herself. Thankfully, nothing major happened to her, but the scars that must’ve left… physically, emotionally and mentally.
We never saw her after the board exams and I don’t even know where she is or what she’s doing anymore. But almost every time I hear her name, I wonder if I could’ve done something anything to stop it.
And that is why Al Rawabi School for Girls stuck with me, because while I didn’t actively participate in the bullying, I didn’t do anything to stop it either. And that makes me just as bad as the actual bullies.
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