In Arabic-speaking countries, the word Amreeka (“America”) has several meanings. To some, it stands for hope and freedom; to others, it signifies an aggressor or a Western devil. In international cinema, Amreeka is the title of a sweet little movie about a family of immigrants who become victims to American ignorance and who overcome their own xenophobia.
Amreeka stars the lovable Nisreen Faour as Muna Farah, a divorced woman from Palestine. Apolitical and secular, Muna and her son Fadi (Melkar Muallem) are outsiders among both Israelis and Palestinians. Luckily for them, however, Muna wins a pair of green cards, and they head to America.
Not so luckily, their entrance to the land of freedom occurs right after the start of Operation Freedom. With anti- Arab sentiment on red alert, the mother-son duo arrive at the airport and end up with all their savings confiscated after a bomb-sniffing dog mistakes a cookie tin full of Palestinian cash for a detonator.
As directed by Cherien Dabis, Amreeka isn’t a film that labels Americans as racist fools. Muna and her son are fresh-off-the-boat immigrants ignorant of American culture and traditions as much as Americans are clueless about them. At one point, mother and son end up outside Chicago, where an immigration official asks Muna her occupation. “Yes, we are occupied,” she answers with a sweet and clueless smile.
Both Muna and Fadi do encounter blatant racism, however, when the son goes to school and the mother seeks employment. Because of her ethnicity, Muna can’t get hired at a bank — despite a stellar accounting resume — and ends up misleading her sister’s family about her real employment. In another sequence, Fadi fights back after getting bullied and ends up in jail — where the policemen suspect him of terrorist connections.
This heartwarming film by a female first-time director packs in a lot of important topics amid funny and sometimes very serious moments. It’s a travelogue about coming to the real America, with the “live and let live” theme becoming progressively more prominent. Amreeka provides a realistic and sometimes hilarious look at America. (Rated PG-13)