All the pain of women in the Arab world, all the problems of female students at a sensitive age, and all the diseases of society, from a domineering patriarchal system to a scattered educational system, were developed by the Jordanian writer and director, Tima Shomali, in cooperation with the writer Shireen Kamal in the series "Al Rawabi School for Girls" which was launched a few days ago on Netflix.
It is the second Jordanian production to be shown on the international stage after "Jinn", which sparked controversy in Jordan and went as far as to provoke a demand that it should be banned because of "insulting society and exporting a misleading image of the Jordanian people". These voices reached the parliament and censorship organizations at that time.
The "jinn" was not as creative as "Al Rawabi School for Girls". Its name does not seem attractive, but within this school, there is a summary of the totality of what students may face, the impression that abnormal family relations leave on children, and a comprehensive view of the human psyche, where there is a seed of good in each of us. Some problems need only dialogue to avoid reaching the point of the explosion, and since the victim turns into an executioner, she masters the use of all kinds of torture.
The series begins on the bus where girls from wealthy families gather for the classy school for girls. Lian (Noor Taher), the strong girl with wide popularity and the leading figure in whose orbit some girls are like escorts, and Maryam (Andrea Taya), the polite girl with a weak personality, in whom Lian finds easy victim, and begins to clash with her until she harms her.
In the beginning, the story seems unconvincing, and the launch of the first episode was weak concerning the escalation of events. There is no residual enmity between the two colleagues, except that the first found in the second a victim who is easy to pick on.
Maryam is abused as Layan accuses her of immoral matters, and her friends bear witness in her favor, and her mother believes them. Maryam decides to take off the robe of innocence and plot revenge.
Her friend Dina (Yara Mustafa), the simple girl, despite belonging to a very wealthy family, and Nouf (Rakeen Saad), the weird girl, who came to the school a year late after being expelled from her previous school, are under surveillance. Nouf (Rakeen Saad) helps Maryam to take revenge without appearing in the picture, and she pays the price of her academic year.
Amid the war between the two colleagues, unrealistic scenes appear. Layan finds Maryam's diary, which she prints and distributes to the students in a very Hollywood-esque plot twist. The whole school is busy reading the memoirs of a girl who visits a psychiatrist because of her constant feeling of anxiety. The girls begin to bully Maryam and describe her as crazy in a scene that is not fitting for an international school where psychotherapy existence is as necessary as a sports teacher.
In addition to that, female students, in general, are bullies and do not have a sense of empathy. The teachers have lost control over their students, undermining the image of the teacher who still enjoys a degree of respect in our schools.
The cliché is in the way the school is portrayed. "Al Rawabi" does not resemble the schools that most of us attend, and it brings us back to the American production tropes that tackled the problem of bullying in schools with set visuals. Girls meet in the gymnasium, swimming, in the changing rooms, and around private lockers where ordinary disputes take place, and the heroine walks with her head bowed surrounded by her classmates drowning in laughter.
The series takes a different path in the last two episodes when we know about the remnants of family relations that made Layan a monster who enjoys torturing others and made her friend Rania (Joanna Arida) a copy of her, while Rokaya (Selsabila), the veiled girl, who walks in the orbit of her two colleagues, is broken at the first problem. Tough characters often hide weak ones hiding behind the veil of strength and might.
Nouf is a strong girl whose body is filled with tattoos, and her face is filled with metal earrings. She is eccentric, strong, and impulsive, but at the moment when she is getting harassed, the mask of strength falls from her on a broken personality who is good at defending others as well as good at keeping silent about her right.
Teacher Abeer (Reem Saadeh)'s treatment of the issue of harassment opens the door to a type of woman who enjoys being a victim, finds excuses for the harasser, and blames the abuser.
Returning to the victim who turns into an executioner, Maryam needed nothing but a family that understood her concerns, not a family that joined forces with her executioner to oppress her and strip her of all aspects of virtue, turning her into a bomb ready to explode and merciless even if the shrapnel of the bomb would harm innocent victims and the reaction was stronger than the act itself.
The series sheds light on the issue of honor-based crimes in Jordan which we constantly hear about. We read the names of victims, we sympathize with them and the criminal goes unpunished. But this time, we live with the victim and all the numbers that are recorded in the category of honor killing victims. Those victims turn from being numbers to being embodied on the screen in the form of humans of flesh and blood and feelings of love, hatred, disappointment, and hope. The victim here pays the price of love in a society that criminalizes it, while she went out without punishment when she hated, and a colleague of hers paid dearly for her hatred.
How much pain does the series convey by revealing the bombs which exploded, when they could have been defused with minimal damage? This series deserves to be watched by parents with their teenage children, to realize from their point of view, how the delay in dealing with matters may make things incurable.
The work counts several humans, psychological and social messages that pass smoothly without direct preaching. In some of its scenes, it has not gone out of the circle of works we have seen before in the Spanish series "Elite" and the series "13 reasons why" when bullying leads the student Hannah Baker to commit suicide. This series pushed teens who suffer from bullying to imitate Hannah and end their miserable lives before the makers decided to go on a second season by way of flashback in which Hannah appeared in the image of the evil girl who paid more for her evil than how the bullying hurt her. In Al-Rawabi, the plotline is different as the series only encourages contemplation to learn lessons.
Al Rawabi is an entirely feminine series, in its writing, directing, and stars, of 6 episodes, starring a group of young women, most of whom are introduced to the Arab audience for the first time, and are Andrea Taya, Rakeen Saad, Nour Taher, Joanna Arida, Yara Mustafa, whose performance varies, but in general, they present an interesting work with the two talented actresses Reem Saadeh and Nadira Omran.
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