Toward a Gendered Moroccan Diasporic Cinema: Transgressing the Fetish in Yasmine Kassari’s Erraged


M. Mimoune DAOUDI
English Teacher,
05 December, 2012


         Examined within cultural, ethnic and socio-political context, the work of Moroccan women diasporic filmmakers problematize fixated identity within an imagined and bounded territorial space while at the same time they draw attention to huge bulk of women based on an overall common experience of poverty and victimization under a dominant patriarchal order. Diasporic films raise consciousness towards the fact that Moroccan woman’s identity is gained through self articulation of difference and personal assets independent of the deterministic patriarchal values. They also put into focus the necessary separation from prevailing ideologies which enables the subversion of dominant viewpoints that construct women as inferior Others.

     This paper engages in probing the female agency and the increasing gender dimension taking Y. Kassari’s film Erraged (The Sleeping Child) (2004) as a case study. In the same way my analysis highlights the ways Moroccan women diasporic filmmakers reshape traditional concepts and myths so as to create a feminine quest for independence and provide several structural elements in the narrative text which are activated to develop a gender subtext that highlights dialogue with otherness within.

Key Words: Diasporic film, gendered cinema, women’s agency, Morocco, engagement.

         Moroccan cinema operates today in very turbulent conditions, marked not only by changes in its own national environment but also by far-reaching developments on a world scale in technology, economics, politics and culture. ( KEVIN DWYER, 2007, p. 277). Moroccan cinema is described by many film critics as an emerging cinematographic power because of the particular support and assistance by the state in particular and growing interest of the public in general. French film critic Michel Serceau considers that Moroccan cinema has gained ground in front of Algerian one which was a leading third world countries in cinematic production in the 60s and the 70s. In the area of film policy there have been a number of positive, although modest, developments in Morocco. In particular, state financial support for films has increased. The main state support to film production comes via the Aid Fund, administered by the CCM. The amounts awarded have increased significantly in recent years, now reaching a total of 50 million dirhams a year (about $5 million), approximately two and a half times the amount awarded just a few years ago. In fact, Moroccan cinema managed to succeed a double challenge. First, it succeeded to maintain a regular rhythm and managed to conquer its own public. Abdelkader Lagtaa’s Un Amour a Casablanca (1991) and Mohamed Aberrahman Tazi’s Looking for My Wife’s Husband (1993) were films that shattered the barrier between cinema and the public in Morocco. with ample talent on hand, a younger generation keen to take up the mantle, and the government projecting increased financial support for film production, much would seem to be in place for continued growth and an increasingly dynamic Moroccan film sector.

          In addition to the first generation of Moroccan film makers such as Jilali Ferhati, A. Lagtaa, A. Tazi and Nouri, a number of diasporic thematic and have had a fundamental influence in the dominant dramatic impulse that is historical thematic seen through the figure of a national hero. Those diasporic filmmakers tried to respond to an expectation and a need to re-appropriate memory risking to sublimate it through fictional narratives and neutralize any historicist vision of history. They anchored themselves in original territory. They go beyond the mainstream cinematic production and position themselves in sharp contrast to the stereotyped figures of the dominant cinema and revisit a deprived  suburb and a marginalized bulk of illiterate women.

         The 21st century has signaled a new phase in Morocco bringing issues of gender to the forefront and tackling engrained cinematic and social inflections in patriarchal society. The question of individual identity is one of the major concerns of diasporic cinema as seen in the variety of themes tackled and the different cinematic techniques handled. A number of films posit identity dimension on the level of the conflict between the “self” and the “other” when they examine the impact of migration on both the individual psyche when encountering the new space (Leghzouli’s Tenja) and the traditional self embodied in those women left behind. In the cinema of the Maghrib, the quest for identity is not confined to the national and gender aspects alone, but pervades all aspects of social life. One of the recurring themes in this cinema is the conflict between modernity and tradition which is often treated in terms of its relevance to the quest for identity. This is often expressed in the context of rural-urban migration (Sabry Hafez, 1995, p. 43.)

  At the same time, this cinema resonates with a growing tendency in films that address the social fracture in which the gendered and marginalized lives of the underclass and voiceless subjectivities in the deserted areas in North East Morocco. In doing so, Moroccan women diasporic cinema deconstructs and challenges hegemonic understandings of Moroccan female identity as it mediates a re-imagining of the self from the viewpoint of the postcolonial subaltern subject. In this way, Moroccan diasporic cinema engages in a socio-political project that expresses truths about home and about the social experience of postcoloniality and renders it transparent. Additionally, diasporic Moroccan cinema reflects national specificities in a postcolonial moment. This cinema pays considerable attention to the structures of the social totality in which culture functions; it emphasizes the role of national culture and the relationship of cultural processes to the forces and relations inherent in the prevailing mode of production. The narrative of this cinema exhibits sensitivity to gender issues whereby the female is perceived from a gender lens.

       Laura Mulvey (1975) advanced the idea of a ‘ruling ideology’ which leads the male onlooker to identify with the male protagonist, or hero in the film. Mulvey argued that the male hero in the film acts as ‘the bearer of the look’. This means that he possesses the controlling power of the male gaze and that the film ‘sees’ everything in the narrative through his eyes. The male spectator is therefore in privileged position, seeing the female characters through the gaze of the hero, sharing as it were in the power of the hero. She wrote a widely-discussed article ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ about pleasure, mainstream cinema, and the possibilities of a new kind of film which challenged the dominant system. She thought that the narrative fiction film created images of women, which were used for the gratifications of men. The most powerful institutions in society, including the cinema, are being run for the benefit of men. It can be noted that patriarchal structures engrained in society attempt to confine individuals to particular roles and spaces. The role of the female in society has often been equated to silence, one might argue that she is even imprisoned in this role as mother, housewife and wife, all of which can be considered enclosed within the boundaries of a home under the watchful eye of the patriarch, the male of the house.

         Kassari eloquently sets the scene of the film as she introduces the spectator to Zineb and her role as an obedient housewife. The film powerfully attracts both viewers’ and critics’ attention not only because it occasioned a heated debate, but also it is a film text that makes vivid a variety of complex features of rural Morocco of the 21st century. The film in fact raises the controversies about women and empowerment that accompany the global changes known in contemporary Morocco. It valorizes Moroccan women experiences outside patriarchal control and thereby poses a challenge to gender hierarchy as well as opening up a new realm for a post-gendered future. The paper in its ensuing sections will build an argument about the portrayal of women in Moroccan cinema seen from the lenses of diasporic Moroccan women film makers.

        Having been inspired by an age-old Moroccan mythology whereby women stop the fetus from growing in its mother’s womb till the father is back, the film disrupts the image of the woman as a passive, submissive wife and as a perfect figure and martyr for her own family. Zineb epitomizes the victim wife who refuses to leave her husband’s house despite perpetual severe physical and emotional violence. Her devotion to the principle of satisfying the husband’s ego culminating to a conventional closure that demands adherence to traditional values of marriage and motherhood makes of her a real portrayal of the ‘Other’.

        However, the film presents us to a space totally invaded by women since all men have quitted Morocco in search for economic survival. Men’s absenteeism is strategically interwoven in the fabric of the film narrative. In fact, the film scenes are fraught with silencing strategies. In the wedding party for instance Kassari pictures men totally covered with white djellabas as is the dead covered with a shroud, an indication of a coming death of those men who are about to migrate to the northern side of the Mediterranean. The wedding is in fact a farewell to patriarchal authority and similarly symbolizes male’s fading visibility in front of the female’s presence and empowerment. After her husband’s departure for clandestine labor in Europe, Zineb is left to live with her mother-in-law, grand-mother-in-law, and the young girl. Four generations of females are left behind; however, man’s presence appears only through the minds of those women. The male’s control is symbolically being present despite their physical absence.

       The female protagonists in this film grow steadily towards disillusionment. At the outset of the film, Zineb is portrayed as a victim who struggles to carve her own destiny. Her life is entirely limited to the routine tasks: milking the goat, cleaning wool and grain, cooking, serving meals, and fetching wood and water. However, the female transgresses the myth of privileging the male and step into a new dynamic role in society. Kassari portrays the female as intelligent and more importantly active agent in her filmography. The fact that Zineb goes to the nearest village to take a picture indicates the stereotypical confinement of the woman to particular roles and spaces….

       Zineb’s decision to destroy the amulet to let the fetus grow has led to the change of direction from a site of gaze to independently act as an individual able to explore her own individuality. In the same line, Moroccan women diasporic cinema has shifted the camera focus from the woman’s body to her identity as an individual. Films such as ……. have wonderfully portrayed women as central to the story line. Different roles played by women have altered the earlier male domination on the screen. This change is not only due to the Moroccan film makers who shrewdly tackle issues deemed taboo subjects such as sexuality and infidelity but also to the credit of the current crop of actresses who have never been hesitant to accept bold roles. In these films, the female is usually shown as bold and empowered who leads life on her own (Nora in Tenja) takes her own decisions, and is often a ‘rebel’ who doesn’t conform to social norms and traditions.

       My analysis adheres to the pioneering psychoanalytical theories such as the male gaze by Laura Mulvey who argues that “Woman… stands in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command, by imposing  on them the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.” (p. 25). Once Hassan receives the photo he turns it with the only admonition that she should never leave the house without her husband’s permission.

      The spectator’s gaze is directed towards the fragmented image of Zineb. She is no longer whole in the eyes of the camera and arguably this could be said to represent the ruling ideology within its patriarchal core values. Kaplan notes that fragmentation can be seen as a form of fetishism, arguing that “the camera fetishizes the female form.” (Kaplan, 1983, p. 31).


       This paper has focused on film narratives that reflect a significant evolution for women in Moroccan diasporic filmography. Kassari’s film discusses the dynamic role of Moroccan rural women. Her perspective gives insight into the changes that women have brought about contemporary rural Morocco. Unlike many films that focus on Moroccan women in urban areas, Erraged provides enough space for women in rural areas to affirm their visibility, power, and invention of the self. Zineb and Halima develop agency through transcending the few alternatives offered to women which are mainly submission to patriarchal normativity, osolation or death. This transcendence, this paper ahs tried to argue, is stimulated by ignoring patriarchal hegemony and escaping a situation of subordination to male figures. These female characters are excluded from public life and have no control over important life-changing decisions. Besides suffering physical isolation, these characters venture outside the control of social degradation and invent a valid solution to escape from oppression. I tried to analyse and argue the case for the evolving portrayal, cultural conception and, most importantly, the redefinition of gender in the 21st Century filmography in Moroccan diaspora. This challenging of foundations and breaking of boundaries, stereotypes and engrained ideals pertaining to patriarchy and the male gaze have been crucial in this analysis of the new conception of gender in Moroccan cinema.


Armes, Roy. 2005. POSTCOLONIAL IMAGES: STUDIES IN NORTH AFRICAN FILM. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Mulvey, L. (1981) Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema in T.Bennett et al. (eds) Popular film and TV, London: Oxford University Press and British Film Institute.

Dwyer, Kevin(2007)’Moroccan Cinema and the Promotion of Culture’,The Journal of North African Studies,12:3, 272-286.

 Fatima Sadiqi and Moha Ennaji. “THE FEMINIZATION OF PUBLIC SPACE: WOMEN’S ACTIVISM, THE FAMILY LAW, AND SOCIALCHANGE IN MOROCCO.” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2, Special Issue: Women’s Activism and the Public Sphere (Spring 2006), pp. 86-114.

Sabry Hafez. Shifting Identities in Maghribi Cinema: The Algerian Paradigm. Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, No. 15, Arab Cinematics: Toward the New and the Alternative (1995), pp. 39-80

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