New Netflix drama ‘Elite’ explores Islamophobia in Europe

A still from new Netflix drama 'Elite.' (Image supplied)
Updated 06 October 2018

New Netflix drama ‘Elite’ explores Islamophobia in Europe

  • 'Elite' is based on a prestigious private school in Spain where three newly enrolled working-class students upset the status quo
  • The show highlights prejudices toward the working class, HIV and Islamophobia

MADRID: After the success of “Casa de Papel” (Money Heist), Netflix premiered its latest Spanish language teen drama, “Elite,” this week.
The story is based on a prestigious private school in Spain where three newly enrolled working-class students upset the status quo — among them, an ambitious Muslim-Palestinian girl.
As the plot unravels around spoilt, rich teens clashing with the newbies and the death of one of their classmates, the show — which has been compared to “13 Reasons Why,” “Gossip Girl” and “Pretty Little Liars” — highlights key issues, among them prejudice toward the working class, HIV and Islamophobia.
In the first episode, Nadia, played by Mina El-Hammani, is ordered to remove her headscarf by the principal or face expulsion in a scene that plays heavily on the debate over whether to ban headscarves in schools that has gripped Europe in recent years.
In 2004, France banned the wearing of all noticeable religious symbols in public schools, which affected those wearing headscarves in schools. Meanwhile, in 2016, a young Muslim woman missed a week of classes because she refused to remove her headscarf.

There was also widespread controversy when a primary school in London banned pupils from wearing the headscarf earlier this year only to later back down from the ban.
It is in this context that the show’s co-writers sought to use Nadia’s character to highlight the challenges some Muslims face when integrating into European society.
“We wanted to work with this character because it’s something that is happening in Europe. This is the reality that we see every day,” co-writer Dario Madrona told Arab News.
“(Nadia) reflected the idea of what Muslims have to face in Europe every day. Because you are part of a different culture, you don’t know if you can integrate. People look at you funny sometimes,” he added.
During the series, Nadia is also faced with hateful comments from her fellow classmate Lu, played Danna Paola, who refers to her as “Taliban.

 

 

Nadia’s brother, Omar, played by Omar Ayuso, faces his own challenges in the show. In one episode he his confronted by his friend Samuel, played by Itzan Escamilla, about his drug dealing.

Samuel advises Omar to join him at the restaurant where he works, to which Omar reminds him that although they both handed in their resumes, only Samuel received a call back.
Aside from Islamophobia and ethnic discrimination, the show also explores the identity crisis some teenagers go through in high school.
El-Hammani explained that, like Nadia, she comes from a Muslim background but struggles with the culture clash that comes with living in Spain.
“My parents are from Morocco, they are Muslims, so I know what it is like to live in a closed environment. Nadia is from Palestine so it’s different, but the same clash of cultures can be felt in both cases,” El-Hammani said.
“I have had a childhood that was very similar to what Nadia has lived (through). Although I was born in Spain, when I go back to Morocco I am a Spaniard and when I am in Spain I am the Moroccan girl. So, you always wonder, ‘Who am I?’”

FASTFACTS

Born in Spain, Mina El-Hammani is of Moroccan origins and began her acting career in 2014. She is known for Spanish TV shows “El Príncipe” and “Servir y proteger” and British TV series, “The State.”


Tom Hanks talks ‘News of the World’ and the comeback of Westerns

Tom Hanks stars in ‘News of the World.’ (File/AFP)
Updated 29 November 2020

Tom Hanks talks ‘News of the World’ and the comeback of Westerns

LOS ANGELES: Depending on who you ask, Westerns are either on their way out, gone for good, or making a slow comeback in Hollywood. At one point a staple genre of the film industry, the classic Western rarely makes it onto the movie theater marquee these days. Big-budget flops such as 2013’s “The Lone Ranger” have served to usher the genre out of popularity, but critical successes such as Quinten Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” “The Hateful 8” and the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit” are doing their part to keep Westerns from dying off completely. 

On Christmas Day, “News of the World” will be doing its part to keep the Western genre alive, and hopefully bag Universal Pictures a few Oscar nominations. Arab News heard more from the film’s star Tom Hanks.

“I love listening to a great story as much as I like telling one, and that’s why I was so excited about playing Kidd,” Hanks said, giving audiences a taste of what his performance has in store. “He is a storyteller. He is driven, emotional. He is noble. He is moved by a pursuit of the truth.”

Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former army officer who, after the death of his family, makes his living traveling around Texas reading the news to illiterate townsfolk and entertaining with true tales from across the world.

“'News of the World' takes place in the shadow of the Civil War’s end. There is defeat. There is strife and anger. Because of the war, Kidd came back to having nothing left,” he told us. “Reading the news gave him a purpose. He got up. He collected the stories. He delivered a reading and then he moved onto the next town.”

 As he continues in his travels, Kidd comes across Johanna, a young girl who had been taken from her pioneer family and raised by the Kiowa Native Americans. 

“She has no idea who her family is,” Hanks shared. “Burdened by his own decency, Kidd is going to have to return her to her family and this coming from a man who has lost any semblance of what a family is.”

The movie is adapted from the novel of the same name by author Paulette Jiles, and while it is not based on a true story, its main characters are inspired by real people. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is based on the ancestor of a friend of Jiles’ — the similarly named historical figure Captain Adolphus Caesar Kydd — who performed readings of newspapers in the 1870s. Johanna is inspired by the more well-known historical tale of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped and raised by the Comanche Native Americans.

Interestingly, there seems to be a disagreement between Jiles and film director Paul Greengrass about their goals in portraying the story of “News of the World.” In a 2016 interview with Texas Monthly, Jiles stated that she had no intention of making a commentary on contemporary politics with the original book, preferring to “move people into the world of imagination.”

Greengrass, on the other hand, told reporters at Vanity Fair that he saw the film, which features families and communities in conflict with each other, as representative of the societal divide in the modern-day US. With these opposing ideas woven into the fabric of the story, it will be interesting to see what audiences take away after watching.

It is clear what Universal is hoping to take away, and that is an Oscar. “News of the World” sees Hanks and Greengrass working together again after their previous collaboration, 2013’s “Captain Phillips.” While not an Oscar-winner, “Captain Phillips” received six nominations as well as attention at the Golden Globes and other award shows. With the film releasing at the tail end of the Oscar season, and a road-tested team of director and star, “News of the World” could be Universal’s best shot at an award for the 2020 film year.

Between award season dreams and the hopeful continuation of the Western genre, there is a lot riding on “News of the World.” At its core, however, the movie promises A-list performances and a compelling story full of action and heart.

“Kidd goes through something that saves him as much as he saves Johanna. She gave him a true purpose,” Hanks told us. “His real message is ‘when you have love in your life you will be alright.’ That’s what all great stories are. It’s just pure love for another human being.”