Palestinian hip-hop documentary opens in Japan

by Jun Shimazaki

Kyodo

Jackie Reem Salloum is an Arab American filmmaker and artist whose documentary film about Palestinian hip-hop musicians expresses the artists’ anger and frustration against the situation in the Middle East.

“Hip-hop in Palestine?” the director of the 2008 film “Slingshots Hip Hop” recalls saying to herself when she first learned from a U.S. radio program in 2001 that there was a Palestinian hip-hop group called DAM.

“I was excited that the (Palestinian) youth were expressing themselves by using a form of music that came from the streets of New York,” the New York-based Salloum said during a recent interview in Tokyo.

She said Palestinian hip-hop musicians and rappers are expressing through words and tunes the complex emotions shared among their peers, many of whom are struggling with poverty, discrimination and Israeli occupation.

“The youth are hungry to find the way of expressing themselves and be creative,” she said. “It’s cathartic and it’s therapeutic for them.”

Salloum was born in Michigan to a Syrian father and a Palestinian mother from the West Bank, and was brought up speaking Arabic at home.

“There was nothing that made me feel proud of who I was,” she said. “When I was younger, I was ashamed of being an Arab.

“I wanted to hide (my ethnic identity) from my friends,” she said, adding that the word “Arab” often brought up negative associations, such as with terrorists in the United States.

Once she started high school, however, Salloum became conscious about her own identity and her family’s. While enrolled in a graduate program at New York University, she studied art and created work that questioned the general public’s stereotypical images of Arabs.

She spent five years producing her documentary, which involved traveling numerous times to the Middle East to meet and talk with Palestinian hip-hop musicians, even though it was often difficult for her to obtain permission from Israel to enter the Gaza Strip. Since its release, the film has won various prizes including a nomination for the Documentary Competition at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

Salloum said that since Gaza has been controlled by the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, hip-hop music from the U.S. has become less acceptable.

“(But) I think hip-hop played an important role in Gaza and still does,” she said. “It does not just connect Palestinians from different areas but connects different age groups, and also men and women.”

The film has already been screened in Tokyo and future screenings are scheduled for Niigata, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Hiroshima.

For more information, visit www.cine.co.jp/slingshots_hiphop