The Moroccan Landscape
by Tilly Boraks
This video essay focuses on several characters from the 2017 Moroccan film Razzia, directed by Nabil Ayouch, the director of many Morccan films that focus on various societal struggles faced by the general population in Morocco. In making this video essay, it was difficult to choose a singular topic as the film follows the stories of about eight different characters and their various difficulties in life in Moroccan society. The stories take place in two different time periods, in the 1980s and 2010s. This allows for a wide variety of stories, which all seemed to fall under one common theme: the oppression faced by each person due to their identity.
The first character I chose to focus on is the teacher at a school for Amazigh children in the Atlas mountains in the 1980s. The Amazigh people are the idigenous group in Morocco (often referred to as “Berber”, although this term is quite offensive to this group) who speak a language called tamazight, among others. Tamazight is primarily found spoken in the Atlas mountains, although it has become a general term used to refer to all Amazigh languages. This group speaks a wide variety of languages, but by placing one name to cover all of these languages, they are marginalized and lack recognition (Zouhir). The Amazighen face two major issues and forms of oppression: they are frequently marginalized and face attempted erasure of their languages and culture by the Moroccan government. The government has made efforts to eradicate the languages spoken by Amazighen in an attempt to unify the greater population under one language. Problems with the language disparity arise in public spaces, where Amazighen are unable to understand signs, messages, etc. because they are all in languages they do not speak, such as Arabic and French. Primarily, the Moroccan government avoided these issues by simply ignoring them. In order to “fix” the issue, principles and teachers must begin teaching in the preferred language to eventually shift all students to this language (Zouhir). This process is shown in the film Razzia: the teacher of the Amazigh school is told he may no longer teach in Tamazight, as it is not the language of Morocco or of Islam. The government sends an inspector to ensure that he is teaching in Arabic, and when the inspector discovers the students are learning in Tamazight, he forces the teacher to teach all of his lessons in Arabic. The students struggle to understand the lesson in a language they do not speak, showing the oppression of Amazighen people and the suppression of their language and culture.
The second character I focus on in the essay is a woman living in the 2010s. She lives in a time when the role of women in the Moroccan society is heavily debated. In one scene, there is a protest occurring over recent calls for reform to the law of inheritance, which states that Moroccan women inherit only half of what men inherit. It serves to say that women are less than men and, therefore, deserve less. Today, this law remains under debate, many Moroccans calling for reform to the sexist rule (Ennaji). The belief that women are less than men and deserve less respect is evident throughout Moroccan culture. The film depicts the disrespectful attitude the woman’s boyfriend has towards her, and his controlling nature in the relationship. I included a scene of her boyfriend telling her that it is absurd that she would even think of getting a job and starting a career. All of these scenes are evidence of the low status of women in Morocco.
The third character is a young woman. Much of her character is left up to interpretation, most interestingly her sexuality. There is a scene of her and two friends having a conversation about the boys at her school and about sex and virginity, during which we see this character feeling removed and disconnected from the conversation. This scene is extremely significant as it shows her questioning her sexuality while simultaneously showing the stigmas that surround sex and virginity and lack of adequate sex education in Morocco. The heavy presence of Islam within Morocco and other Arab countries led to a lack of comprehensive sex education, instead focusing on abstenance (Dialmy). Throughout the film, this character appears to be struggling with her own sexuality, and constantly feeling the pressure and stigma around sex and sexuality.
The fourth character is a young male musician. This character represents the pressures put on young Moroccan people to have successful careers in “respectable” fields. We see this character’s father completely ignores him when he tries to talk about his recent successes with his music. His father is disapproving and discouraging, desiring his son to pursue a different career. We also see this character teased by some kids on the street, perhaps showing that Moroccan artists are mocked for their passions.
Finally, the last character highlighted in this video essay is a restaurant owner in Casablanca. He is featured in the film largely because he is Jewish. In a scene with a conversation between this character and his father, the film points out the lack of Jews in Morocco. The reason for this absence of a large Jewish community was a mass emigration of Jews from Morocco that occurred between 1948 and 1976, which resulted in the Jewish population dropping from, (at its peak) a quarter of a million, to around 3000 today (Abeddour). The emigration of Jews from any Muslim country was due to the anti-Jewish sentiments that were ubiquitous (Abeddour). This character mentions that there will always be enough Jewish people in Casablanca to bury his father, despite the fact that there are not enough in Tangier.
This is because Casablanca is home to the largest Moroccan Jewish population, and there are few left anywhere else in the country (Abeddour). I chose two scenes from the film that exmplified these anti-Jewish beliefs and sentiments. The first is an argument between two young boys, one of which claims that the other stole his money, and calls him Jewish as an insult. The second is a scene in which a man and woman are kissing and, when he leaves the room, she discovers he is Jewish, and quickly leaves. These two scenes show the stereotypes of and aversion to Jews in Morocco.
I chose to transpose images of the Moroccan landscape over each character’s face in an effort to visually show that each group represented (i.e. women, Amazighen, young people, artists, Jews) make up the country. They are a part of the landscape, yet they face oppression within their country. I wish to draw viewers attention to the hypocrisy of this not only in Morocco, but in every country. Perhaps through viewing the video essay, one will begin to look more closely at the everyday occurrences that exemplify the oppression of integral members and groups in our society, and maybe even attempt to correct one’s own behaviors that reinforce the culture of oppression.
- Abeddour, Yona. “Jews in Morocco: A History.” YouTube. , 19 Apr. 2018.
- Dialmy, Abdessamad. “Sexuality in Contemporary Arab Society.” Social Analysis, vol. 49, no. 2, Summer 2005, pp. 16–33.
- Ennaji, Moha. “Morocco’s Inheritance Laws Are Hurting Women and Must Be Reformed.” News24. N.p., 25 Apr. 2018.
- Zouhir, Abderrhaman. “Language Policy and State in Morocco: The Status of Berber.” Policy Studies Organization, 24 April 2014.