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Synopsis: Algeria, 1990s. Nedjma (Lyna Khoudri), an 18-year-old student passionate about fashion design refuses to let the tragic events of the Algerian Civil War to keep her from experiencing a normal life and going out at night with her friend Wassila. As the social climate becomes more conservative, she rejects the new bans set by the radicals and decides to fight for her freedom and independence by putting on a fashion show.
Note: “Papicha” in Algerian slang means “rebel girl.”


Director: Mounia Meddour
Starring: Lyna Khoudri
Type: Feature
Origin: Algeria
Year: 2019
Screening time: 1H45

About the director: Mounia Meddour was born and raised in Algeria. At the age of 18, she moved to France with her family as a result of death threats they received during the Algerian Civil War. She studied journalism before joining the summer directing program at La Fémis in Paris. Her first short film, Edwige (2011) won the Ciné+ Award at the Saint-Jean-de- Luz Festival, the UniFrance Short Film Award and was featured in several festivals.


The Algerian Civil War of the 1990s

Algeria, a country the side of the American Midwest and located in North Africa, was colonized by the French in 1830 and won its independence after a violent revolution in 1962. The ruling revolutionary party ran the country until the late 1980s when it opened up to a multiparty election. Religious conservatives and Islamists were on a path to win the election when the military-industrial power stepped in. A civil war broke out between them which targeted ordinary people as well as Algerian intellectuals and artists who remained culturally connected to the former colonial power, France, and whose lives were shaped by Western standards of dress and social interaction and not the standards of a growing Islamic fundamentalism. The war caused a reported 200,000 deaths and ended when a revered Algerian political figure was assassinated and the military leaders instituted an amnesty program. One of the particularities of this war was how little it was reported on both in Africa and abroad, a hidden tragedy that foreshadowed what would happen later during the “Arab Spring” when people in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria called for democratic reform.

Gender Roles and Spaces

The Mediterranean has always been a stronghold of patriarchal rule in the public square and matriarchal power in private spaces. Female characters in literature and film often symbolize the emergent nation from the male point of view, and the threshold between these two gendered spaces is a theater of tension. No doubt, Algerian women suffer today from societal and often familial patriarchal dominance whenever they seek to fulfill themselves personally, sexually and professionally. Even though women have legal rights, many are discouraged by social expectations and abide by cultural norms rather than new laws. Yet, as the film shows, Algerian women are strong! They fought side by side men in the War of Independence, and, in the last decades, especially during the recent Hirak uprising, which sought to move the country towards democratic norms, many women have protested and insisted on having their voices heard. Women students are now the majority in universities and often employed in the judiciary. Papicha investigates the power relations between genders during the fraught decade of the civil war.

Amazigh symbolism

Although the film does not directly represent issues pertaining to Amazigh identity, when the main character seeks courage and moral clarity take note: the filmmaker introduces Amazigh elements. Look out for these!


The Amazigh People and their Cinema

“Amazigh” is the singular of “Imazighen” which means “free human.” Formerly known as Berbers, these diverse people were the original inhabitants of Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa, and now extend to Europe and North America as one of the first African immigrant diasporas in the 20th century. Grouped into numerous communities, including the Kabyle, Tuareg, Chleuhs, and Siwis, they have developed diverse cultural practices. Successively colonized by waves of invaders and influenced by global exchange, the Amazigh people have shown unique powers of resistance. Despite cultural hegemony, they have preserved their language, Tamazight, which is written with the Tifinagh alphabet, and their rich cultural expression. Today they are known for their contributions to world music, artisan crafts, and transnational film.

Key insights of Amazigh Cinema:
•Amazigh films present sites of multidirectional memory - they tell stories by translating between national, regional and global communities.
•Space is rendered in a gendered fashion and points to key elements of North African and Amazigh identity.
•No one film captures Amazigh identity or life – only a wide variety of films and videos can offer a grounded sense of contemporary issues and values impacting these diverse communities.
•Film is one way to preserve an ancient culture in active transformation.

For more information on the Amazigh:
Overview of Amazigh history/identity/politics. Turkish Television production.
Maddy Weitzman, Bruce. 2017. “Berbers and the Nation State in North Africa.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History. DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190277734.013.10

Algerian Poet Samira Negrouche

Poet Samira Negrouche will be joining the discussion on Friday Nov 20 at 1pm. To read about her and her work:

Film Assignment

Action 1: Question to reflect on before seeing Papicha:

How can art -- fashion, visual art, film, theater, literature, and/or music -- empower those who create and produce it and be acts of activism and resistance against oppressive or restrictive cultural practices? Can you describe how one project or event, for example, Beyonce’s “Lemonade”, the film Black Panther, John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons, or the
Global Citizen Festival, uses art to express a political message?

Action 2: Questions to reflect on after seeing Papicha:

Analysis question:
1. “Papicha” is Algerian slang for “cool girl” or “rebel girl”. How is Nedjima's fashion show an act of feminist rebellion?

Making Observations:
2. Is the film visually pleasing? What is the music like? Describe one memorable scene providing specific details about the film's look and sound.
3. Describe one outfit in the fashion show that you liked.
4. How are the spaces gendered? Do man and women occupy specific locations? How is female friendship shown through space or movements or camera angles? What message is communicated?
5. Which character made the most impact on you? Why?

6. Did this film reinforce ideas you’ve discussed in other classes? Link the film to a topic, assignment or concept you have examined this semester.
7. Have you (or a family member) ever faced an experience that challenged your core beliefs? What was at issue and what did you do?

Things you can do to promote gender equality

Think about how your culture informs your behavior and expectations when it comes to relationships between men, women and transgender people.
Reflect on the way you treat people of different cultural and gender identities.
Question how your cultural upbringing influences your social behavior and political actions.

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