★★★ / ★★★★
Muna (Nisreen Faour), a divorced woman raising a son on her own, receives something in the mail that she has forgotten about. Many years has passed since she applied for a green card that would allow her to go to America. Though the opportunity is now in her hands, she is reluctant to go forward because, tho ugh they are welcome to live with family in a suburb in Illinois, there are still many unknown variables to take into consideration—especially in a post-911 world. Her son, Fadi (Melkar Maullem), insists that they go because it is a shot that many people in the West Bank only dream of.
Though I am in immigrant who moved to the U.S. pre-911, I found “Amreeka” to be very relatable because it gets the details right. Writer-director Cherien Dabis, pays close attention to the overall experience of moving to America—the fears, doubts, sadness, and excitement that come with it—and so it works as portrait of the hardship many immigrants often go through even if the post-911 angle is taken out. A truth about movies worth seeing: cripple or take out one crucial aspect of the story but it still manages to function on its own.
The Palestinian Christian mother and son face similar challenges when it comes to work and school, respectively. Muna, having two degrees and ten years of experience working in a bank, finds it very difficult to secure a job while Fadi is harassed by classmates, labeling him “terrorist,” due to the fact that he came from the Middle East. The camera observes as the mother and son’s idealization of America being a land of countless opportunity and acceptance collides with the reality that it is not so easy to swim and thrive as a working class immigrant.
I liked the presentation of the picture. At times it looks blurry or grainy. In retrospect, that was likely how I saw America during my first year or two actually living here, not at all shiny and sharp as it is often shown in the movies. The unpolished look adds to the feelings of uncertainty, reluctance, and struggles that Fadi and Muna face.
I related with the son. I knew I was smart and capable of doing more, but I felt so ordinary at the time—like I was almost less than my classmates who knew perfect English, who wore the right clothes, who commanded the right attitude. I wanted to fit in so much that it triggered a phase of my desperation to minimize or ignore my Filipino culture when outside of the home, sometimes while being inside the home, somehow convinced that the quickest and most effective way for me to belong is to command the language better than people born in America—hand-in-hand with speaking only in English, if possible, and eliminating my accent. The rest would follow. It sounds silly now but I was desperate to attain it at the time.
One sweet relationship in the film is shared between Muna and Mr. Novatski (Joseph Ziegler), the high school principal. The conversation they have in the car about being minorities and being generalized has nuanced truths in it that come across deeply personal—like it is inspired by an actual experience.
“Amreeka” gives us a choice: to see it through a personal or political lens. I chose the former almost by reflex because there are scenes in the first half that comes eerily close to my experiences like having to say goodbye to relatives before heading to the airport, already feeling homesick even before leaving, and touching snow for the time in America.