Review: Miss J

UK-based HeavyWait creates female-driven narratives that bring attention to social issues. Their second short, Miss J., written and directed by Amani Zardoe, centers around a Muslim teenager named Deema.

Her brother, Hakeem, has disappeared. The media claim he ran off to Syria to join a terrorist organization because he’s Muslim and as we know to be Muslim, in many “civilized” societies, is to be guilty until proven innocent. Deema doesn’t want to believe that Hakeem could do something like that but can’t get in touch with him to hear his side of the story. She is angry and afraid. Mad at her brother for his inability to explain, scared for his safety and her own. Deema is bullied daily by a gang of girls who only see her differences, the pieces of her that the media have repeatedly told them are unacceptable within their society. They don’t know her, but they know they hate her. Their hatred pushes Deema to commit an act she never intended. One that, while it didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, wasn’t what I expected. Maybe I wasn’t expecting it because I hoped for a happier outcome.

There is a hint within the dialogue between Deema and one of her tormentors, Lucy, (played by Maisie Brooker) that they were once friends before Deema was culturally encouraged to don her hijab (which, contrary to popular belief, women are not excommunicated for choosing not to). This girl should still recognize the friend she once knew but is blinded by ideology and the fear that go against the status quo could make her an outcast as well. Lucy learns, too late, the consequences of her actions.

If we continue to tell Muslim teenagers that no matter who they really are, we will always view them as violent terrorists who have no right to be in countries we are told to view as ours but for many always been their homes, how far do we think we can push them before they break and turn against everything their religion actually teaches?

When that happens, the media will blame them and claim that they wanted to do it all along. We are creating the violence we fear by hating people who never hated us.

This is the kind of film that could teach many people a thing or two about their own loathsome actions. Unfortunately, they are the ones least likely to watch. You can’t teach people who are unwilling to learn. They’ll have already closed their minds to the idea that this girl’s story is worthy of their time and decided that this is Muslim propaganda. It isn’t because at its deepest level this is not a film about being Muslim, it is about being human.

This film takes place in the U.K. but would fit just as easily within the U.S. Today, it’s Muslims. But who knows what group the media will choose to villainize next?

From a technical perspective, the film is well shot and dynamic with hand-held segments lending just the right amount of unsteadiness to emotional scenes, not that there is a single scene that isn’t overflowing with emotion. It avoids the pitfall of overacting that claims many an indie film with a cast of relative unknowns. The lead, Serena Manteghi, has only two IMDB credits to her name, though her focus does appear to be on theatrical performances. There is a contrast in the lighting between the harsh daylight of Deema’s encounter with the gang, the diffused light of her bedroom, and the industrial and almost judgementally downlight within the rundown building where the majority of the film takes place. Dialogue is taut and realistic. I can easily see why this short is up for the Writing Award at Underwire Film Festival, where it will make its public debut later this week.

The only complaint I have about Miss J is that it’s too short. There is significant depth within these characters for this to be developed into a feature, one that I would love to see.

Miss J is currently on the festival circuit and there is no trailer just yet. We will keep you updated as this is a film you’ll want to see.

For updates about Miss J and more information about their other projects, check out HeavyWait’s website or follow them on twitter.

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