PODCAST| Matt Micucci interviews Hissa Hilal, protagonist of the film The Poetess.
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An interview with Saudi poet Hissa Hilal, the protagonist of the documentary The Poetess, directed by Stefanie Brockhaus and Andy Wolff, which screened at the 2018 One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival. In this interview, we talk about her documentary, how she was approached by the directors, her initial reservations in shooting a film about her life, and the relationship that she established with the directors, especially Brockhaus, during the filming. But we also take this opportunity to talk about the importance of poetry in Saudi Arabia; clearly, as implied by the fact that, as explored in the film, poetry is the subject of the country’s most popular TV show, slightly reminiscent of its X-Factor western equivalent, poetry is very important. But what about women in poetry? Hissa Hilal tells us that she, herself, was quite established before becoming a participant on this show, but that before then she used a pseudonym and nobody knew her true identity. We also talk about some pressing themes of the Arab world and Arab culture, such as the segregation of the sexes, and the meaning of the term “fatwah,” which was the topic of one of her courageous poems from the show.
The Poetess: A woman’s mere public appearance is a violation of morality in conservative Saudi Arabia. Saudi poetess Hissa Hilal did the unimaginable – she starred in a television show. Million’s Poet is no ordinary talent contest. The superstars sought among contestants from Muslim countries do not have to sing or dance, but to recite their own poetry. The professional and lay jury decided that Hissa would become the first woman to take part in the contest, and her bold poems soon made her a star of Western and Arab media. Her open criticism of conservative norms and religious gender taboos earned her enthusiastic applause, but also death threats. The film presents the story of a woman who is able to combine her deep religious beliefs with profound criticism of theocratic dogma.