Muslims and Arabs aren't always lucky to be represented in international productions the way they should be. To be fair, Western productions have come a long way since exclusively featuring Muslims as oppressed women and terrorist men. Creators seem to be putting more effort into presenting Muslim characters in a more authentic light, but they haven't always done a good job.
This time around, it seems like Hollywood had its ears and eyes wide open as the first all-Arabic action movie to be produced under its supervision finally came to life. Screened at the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday, Mosul relays the story of the Iraqi police's Nineveh SWAT team, whose members fought to take back their home city from the so-called Islamic State (Daesh).
The movie, filmed in the Iraqi dialect, was entirely shot in Morocco for security purposes and was produced by Joe and Anthony Russo, the minds behind the world's biggest blockbuster Avengers: Endgame.
Mosul was released earlier this year and is available for viewing online. It received a massive welcoming at its festival screening this week.
The motivation to create such a movie and the will to preserve its origins and have it be done in Arabic was all thanks to one article Joe Russo had read in the New Yorker magazine.
"I'd never read a piece of journalism and cried at the end. The plight of this team and everyone in Mosul brought me to tears. That needed to be told as authentically as possible. There was no other way to make it," he said, according to Arabian Business.
The film's writer and director Matthew Michael Carnahan had one condition that needed to be met for his cooperation in the movie: the story had to be told in its original language. To his surprise, the Russo brothers took no time to agree.
Speaking to the press, Anthony Russo said the global fandom for Marvel movies convinced him and his brother of the "pressing need to find stories from every corner of the globe to bring to the rest of the world."
The feature's filming started just four months after Mosul was finally retaken in December 2017. Though its cast is made up of Iraqi actors, Mosul was shot in Morocco and for security reasons, its entire production process was kept under the wraps.
Carnahan, the writer of World War Z, said he never knew of the Iraqi SWAT team before coming across their story in 2017.
"I'm embarrassed to admit, my country [U.S.] has been at war in Iraq since I was 17 and at high school. I never knew that a Nineveh SWAT team existed," he explained.
"They were fighting for their city, their families and sacrificing themselves for one another on a daily basis. They were fighting for the same things we all want: a safe city and a happy family. That, to me, cuts across all humanity regardless of the language you're speaking or the god you worship," he added.
The producers hope their film will help change the way Arabs and Muslims are often misrepresented in Hollywood films — which often demonize and stereotype them. Mosul's Iraqi executive producer Mohamed Al Daradji believes it might finally defeat racist stereotypes in international films.
"I am very optimistic that this film can open the road for Hollywood to make more positive films about the Arab world and the Middle East. Unfortunately we have been portrayed in a bad way for a long time. I have suffered from that, we all have had experiences from it," he told reporters.
"We never have had the chance to have an Arab story shown in this positive way. By the way, we are human beings like you", he added.
Arab representation is present at this year's Venice Film Festival
Two Arab films premiered at the festival, which is considered the oldest in the world.
Saudi filmmaker Shahad Ameen debuted her first feature film, Scales (Sayidat Al-Bahr), at the festival's Critics' Week competition. Set in a dystopian landscape, the film tells the story of a young girl named Hayat who stands up to her family in a bid to overturn a village tradition. In her town, families sacrifice female children to mysterious creatures inhabiting local waters.
The Lebanese feature All This Victory also screened and is competing at the festival. Directed by Ahmad Ghossein, the drama is set in 2006, the year the country witnessed a war with Israel.
During this year's edition of the cinematic event, Tunisian actress Hend Sabri became the first Arab woman to be selected as a jury member of the Luigi De Laurentiis Award for a Debut Film.