Islamic Feminism and Its Role in Cinema

Main Project: ISLAMIC FEMINISM AND ITS ROLE IN CINEMA
PhD Project: THE PORTRAYAL OF THE HISTORICAL MUSLIM FEMALE ON SCREEN

PhD Research Abstract

ABSTRACT


The Portrayal of the Historical Muslim Female on Screen

A thesis and two 15-minutes episodes of animation submitted to the
University of Manchester for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
in the Faculty of Humanities

Sabina Shah
School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

24.1.2017

Representations of the Muslim female are value-laden synonymous with the act of veiling.  Veiling has fuelled political, social and academic debates and this study contributes to the ongoing conversation alongside identity formation by examining the image of the Muslim female on-screen with due attention given to animation.  The image of the Muslim female is drawn in all manner of directions from that of the belly-dancing beauty to the ‘bundle in black’, the latter often associated with terrorism, particularly post-9/11 and the consequent ‘War on Terror’. There is another direction that proffers an idealised image of the good daughter and dutiful wife against that of the fallen woman.  Such constructs I argue tend to rid the Muslim female of her agency. This thesis examines how and why various representations of the Muslim female have emerged and changed, whilst some aspects have remained stagnant over time, thus positioning on-screen representations within their historical context.

This project goes beyond traditional academic methods of critical analysis in reading film.  The hybridised role of the researcher-animator enables the study to offer a critique from that of the spectator, but with the added vantage point of the practitioner with a set focus on the making of meaning.  The interdisciplinary approach incorporates film theory, specifically concerned with representations of race and gender. The work of Muslim women scholar-activists informs and inspires the practice in reclaiming the status of the Muslim woman.  Their approach lies within three trajectories being gender-sensitive interpretations of the Qur’an, a recovery of Muslim women’s history and a critique on representation. Their approaches fall in line with the aim of this project to reclaim the historical Muslim figure on screen, whereas animation provides an attractive yet versatile mode of production to carry out such a task. 


Key questions guiding this study are: why are current and existing portrayals of the historical Muslim female problematic? Why do these portrayals need to be addressed? Why does an alternative approach to the portrayal of the historical Muslim female need to be devised and put into practice?  Finding the answers to these questions lie in the undertaking of the practice.  The practice consists of the first two episodes of a five-part series titled Sultan Razia, and as the title suggests the animation is based upon a legendary historical Muslim female figure, who ruled the Sultanate of Delhi between 634-638 Hejira/1236-1240CE. This project is an example of how theory works in practice and vice-versa to determine an audio-visual practice that re-inserts the Muslim female into a history that breaks away from established clich├ęs.