The US streaming giant Netflix launched a collection of 32 award-winning movies and documentaries produced by Palestinian filmmakers on Oct. 14. Palestinians praised the move for introducing global audiences to the Palestinian-made drama and the Palestinian narrative of the conflict with Israel.
The move comes as Israeli drama series on Netflix have gained much popularity. The Israeli series “Fauda,” “Our Boys,” and “Shtisel,” were featured among the 30 best international TV shows of the decade between 2010 and 2020 according to the New York Times. Another drama series, “Be’Tipul,” is also hitting airwaves globally.
Netflix’s trove of Palestinian films includes a number of nominated and award-winning films, such as “A Man Returned” by Palestinian-Danish director Mahdi Fleifel, and “The Crossing,” produced and directed by May Odeh.
“Like Twenty Impossibles,” written and directed by Annemarie Jacir, is the first short film from the Arab world to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and it was also one of the finalists in the Oscars.
Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman’s “Divine Intervention” — in which Suleiman honors his hometown Nazareth — won two awards and a nomination at the Cannes Film Festival. The film “3000 Nights,” produced in 2015 by an Egyptian director, won the Jury Prize at the 2016 International Film Festival and the Human Rights Forum.
In a press release on the launch of the collection, Netflix said, “Some of the films, such as ‘Present’, ‘Pomegranate and Myrrh’ and ‘It Must be Heaven,’ are already on the service and will now live under the Palestinian Stories collection, making it easier for members to find outstanding content from the Arab world. The majority of the titles will stream globally, and all the films will include subtitles relevant to those countries where they are streaming in Arabic.”
It added, “Spanning multiple genres and styles, the collection will showcase the depth and diversity of the Palestinian experience, exploring people’s lives, dreams, families, friendships, and love.”
“The collection is a tribute to the creativity and passion of the Arab film industry as Netflix continues to invest in stories from the Arab world,” the streaming service added.
It further quoted Odeh, director of "The Crossing, as saying," “I’m glad to finally have alternative Palestinian films accessible to wide audiences through Netflix. We all in the Palestinian film industry have been eager to share our narrative with the world through our authentic creative productions as an alternative to news reporting.”
“The screening of Palestinian films on international platforms … would shape global public opinion and create a just awareness of the Palestinian cause,” Buthaina Hamdan, a spokeswoman for the Palestinian Ministry of Culture in Ramallah, told Al-Monitor.
Hamdan believes international platforms do not give Palestinian films enough screening space. She argued that Israel has control over the funding of these platforms, resulting in bias toward the Zionist narrative.
“This is an opportunity to present to the world the Palestinians’ stories of suffering under the occupation," Ahmed Barakat, an expert and consultant in social media from Jerusalem, told Al-Monitor. "Israeli films have been telling the story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from only one point of view.”
Barakat believes Netflix decided to feature the Palestinian Stories collection at this time because of the international attention the Palestinian cause gained this year. “The Palestinian narrative of this year’s events in the Palestinian territories was impartial. The events in Sheikh Jarrah and the recent war in Gaza were mainly reported by Palestinian individuals not affiliated to any Palestinian factions. This drew the attention of US news outlets,” he said.
“Netflix's decision to feature Palestinian films is triggered by a worldwide curiosity about Palestine and not just about Israel,” he noted.
Mahmoud al-Borbar, a digital media specialist from Gaza, told Al-Monitor that Netflix no longer wants to be accused of bias in favor of Israel. “Palestinians had accused Facebook of filtering and blocking Palestinian content during the war on Gaza in May," he said, and Human Rights Watch also accused Facebook of suppressing content posted by Palestinians and their supporters. The social media giant has launched a probe into the accusations, expected to finish in 2022.
Palestinian movie director Reema Mahmoud told Al-Monitor, “I am very excited to watch Palestinian films on Netflix. Cinema theatres have been closed in Gaza since the first Palestinian uprising in 1987. This was due to the deteriorating security situation in the enclave at that time due to the confrontations with the Israeli occupation and the rise of Islamic movements opposed to cinema, such as Hamas.”
“Netflix’s move comes in response to the demand of Arab and Western viewers from the Arab and Western searching for Palestinian films on the service," Jamal Abu al-Qumsan, a veteran actor and director from Gaza, told Al-Monitor. "These films have won awards in Arab and international film festivals, such as ‘Present’ by Palestinian-British director Farah Nabulsi and 'Gaza Mon Amour' directed by twin brothers Arab and Tarzan Nasser.”
Abu al-Qumsan noted, however, that the Palestinian film production is facing an acute funding crisis due to the lack of official support. “Palestinian directors depend on self-financing for their films,” he said, calling on the Palestinian private sector to invest in this industry. “Cinema is the most powerful weapon to fight the occupation. It is even stronger than bullets,” he concluded.