1 EXT. ARID LANDSCAPE. DAY
Sunday, December 1, 2013
HONOUR is one of 10 feature film projects I am developing that I cannot apply to Screen Australia for funds to develop as a result of the ban placed on me by Ruth Harley and ratified with the Screen Australia Board. The ban applies not just to myself but to my co-writers as well - evidenced by their not being able to access Screen Australia script development monies, regardless of the quality of the project, if my name is attached to it. An absurd state of affairs and one countenanced by a Board with four practicing filmmakers on it!
Can Jasmin, with Hannah’s help, prevent the ‘honour killing’ of Fatima, soon to depart overseas to be forcibly married to her 30 year old cousin? Can Jasmin prevent her own ‘honour killing’, retain her faith in Islam, keep Hannah as her lover, win back the love and respect of her beloved father and remain on good terms with the rest of her family and the Muslin community she feels to be an integral part of?
1 EXT. ARID LANDSCAPE. DAY
1 EXT. ARID LANDSCAPE. DAY
Extreme close-up of a woman’s eyes, framed by a black burqa. The sound of men laughing. The woman is scared. Very scared. The shot holds for quite some time. The sound of men laughing is mixed with their chatter in an Arabic tongue
A wider shot reveals the upper part of the woman chador-clad body. Behind her is an arid landscape devoid of dwellings of any kind. The woman clutches the chador nervously with youthful hands.
In a wider shot yet the chador-clad woman is revealed to be buried in the ground up to her waist.
In a reverse angle shot, the woman in the foreground, dozens of Afghani men with stones in their hands ready themselves for the task in hand. One steps forward, a smile on his face. He lifts the stone (the size of a cricket ball) above his shoulder, says something in Arabic that makes the other men laugh, takes aim and throws his stone. The laughter carries over to:
2 INT. COMEDY VENUE. NIGHT
Close-up of two eyes framed by a black burqa. The sound of laughter in the background – male and female mixed. A woman’s Australian-accented voice.
For any Muslims in the audience tonight, remember that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, disapproved of excessive laughter. ‘Do not laugh too much,’ he said, ‘for excessive laughter corrupts the heart …’
As JASMIN speaks, moves her head, it becomes apparent that her eyes are the only part of her face visible to the audience– the rest covered with a black burqa.
And he practiced what he preached at least according to Aisha, Muhammad’s seven year old bride who said…okay, for those of you who think it might be a bit suss for a 53 year old man to have a 7 year old wife, relax. He didn’t have sex with Aisha until she turned nine…anyhow, this is what Aisha had to say about the Prophet laughing:
Close on another set of eyes, a man’s, barely visible behind dark-tinted glasses. He is angry.
See from behind him, the man records Jasmin’s performance with a mobile phone.
JASMIN (voice off)
I never saw the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, laughing so heartily that his back teeth showed…’
Sound drains away and the images fades to black.
Title card: HONOUR
Sound and image fades back in.
JASMIN, seen in a wide shot to be dressed in a chador now, finishes her performance:
Thank you so much for not laughing. Allāhu Akbar. That’s ‘God is Great’ for the infidels in the audience. Thank you.
The young woman removes her burqa to reveal an absurdly bushy black beard, wig, moustache and eyebrows for a moment before taking a bow and leaving the stage.
3 INT. BACKSTAGE. NIGHT
JASMIN walks backstage, disappears into:
4 INT. DRESSING ROOM. NIGHT
JASMIN removes the beard, wig, moustache and eyebrows to reveal short blonde hair. In her late teens, JASMIN glances apprehensively in a mirror for a moment, throws her wig, beard etc into a small backpack and picks up a crash helmet.
5 EXT. BACK LANE. NIGHT
JASMIN appears in a doorway that opens into a dark alley. Using her hand to cover most of her face she peers out furtively – looking up and down the alley as if expecting to see someone. There is no one.
JASMIN puts on a red full-face crash helmet then walks fast a little way down the alley to her red motor scooter. As she straddles the seat, puts a key in the ignition, something catches her attention. Turning around fearfully, she sees:
The figure of a man lurking in the shadows. Or is it her imagination? There is panic in her eyes as she quickly starts the scooter, puts on the crash helmet and drives off.
6 EXT. CITY STREET. DAY
As she drives her motor scooter JASMIN looks repeatedly into the rear vision mirror as if expecting that she is being followed. Her fear is palpable.
7 EXT. INDUSTRIAL SUBURB. NIGHT
JASMIN drives into a semi-deserted street in an industrial suburb, pulls up outside an old and somewhat dilapidated warehouse and chains her motor scooter to a light pole in the street – all the while her eyes scanning the street for signs of being followed or in expectation of an attack of some kind.
JASMIN takes off her crash helmet and, key in hand, prepares to open the warehouse door. To her surprise it is already open. She walks in a little apprehensively, calls out:
There is no reply.
8. INT. FACTORY SQUAT. NIGHT
JASMIN makes her way down the cluttered corridor of an old factory that has been converted into a communal home for young university students.
JASMIN stops at the partially open door of a room. The light is on. Music plays.
There is no response. JASMIN looks around, terrified now, opens the door, looks down at the floor, lets out a blood-curdling scream.
9 EXT. SUBURBAN HOME. DAY
In bright sunlight JASMIN, dressed in colourful traditional mid-eastern clothes and hijab that covers, but does not totally conceal, her dark hair, makes her way from the front door of her family home carrying two large plates piled high with biscuits, cakes, jellies and other sweets.
Several COLOURFULLY DRESSED CHILDREN run up to her, reach out to grab something sweet from the plates. JASMIN laughs, holds them out of reach, and proceeds into the street – the kids swarming behind her.
Title card: Six months earlier
The road of this suburban street has been blocked off and several tables set up in the middle of it. Families sit on rugs laid out of the asphalt. The mood is celebratory. A man plays an oud, a few people dance, kids open gifts given to them by visiting relatives. We are at a suburban street party in a predominantly Muslim Australian suburb. It is the first day of Eid, at the end of Ramadan…..
So begins one of the seven feature screenplays I am developing that cannot be read or assessed by anyone at Screen Australia as a result of my having been banned by Ruth Harley and a Screen Australia board that includes four fellow filmmakers!
Jasmin’s ‘coming of age’ challenges on her journey of self-discovery
There is little in Jasmin’s life during the early stages of HONOUR, on the first day of Eid (to celebrate the end of Ramadan) to suggest that in the not-too-distant future this naïve young woman, sheltered in so many ways within her family and community from the broader Australian community, will fall in love with a Jewish woman her own age, Hannah; that she will find herself in serious conflict with her father, Zayan, her imam, Bashir - who is also her father’s cousin and a man she calls ‘uncle’; that her husband-to-be and second cousin, Ashik (‘uncle’ Bashir’s son), believing as he does in ‘honour killing’, may prefer her dead to being humiliated if her lesbian affair with Hannah becomes public knowledge; that she will make it onto the front pages of newspapers and be the subject of an intrusive, sensational and factually inaccurate investigative TV report when she identifies herself as the comedienne telling risqué jokes in public (posted on the internet) about The Prophet Muhammad; that she will enrage the men within a family of traditional Middle Eastern Muslims when she tries, with Hannah’s help, to prevent the forced marriage of their 16 year old daughter, Fatima, to a cousin double her age - a marriage that will, in all likelihood, result in her being the victim of an ‘honour killing’ when it is discovered, by her husband on her wedding night, that this Aussie Facebook, -iPod-and iPad-loving teenager is not a virgin; that Jasmin will find herself, when ‘outed’ as a lesbian, staunchly defending Islam in public (her own 21st C interpretation and practice of it) despite having been cast out by both her family and community.
In a ‘Coming of Age’ character-and-relationship-driven thriller Jasmin is confronted with a series of choices that revolve around whether she should live her life in accordance with her God-given sexual preference (as she sees her relationship with Hannah), the dictates of her own conscience, her newfound understanding and alternative interpretation of the Koran or in compliance with the expectations of her father, her family, and Islam as it is practiced in the community of which she is a part and from which she does not wish to be alienated; a community she comes to believe, as the story unfolds, as being better suited to 7th century Arabia than 21st century Australia.
“God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is inside themselves.”
The Koran, chapter 13, verse 11
Jasmin 18-year-old university student
Zayan Jasmin’s father, late 40s
Mysha Jasmin’s mother, late 30s
Bashir Jasmin’s ‘uncle’. An imam.
Ashik Jasmin’s second cousin, mid-late 20s
Hannah 19-year-old university student
Fatima 16-year-old school girl.
As the story commences, during Eid, Jasmin is much loved by both her father Zayan (whom she adores), her mother Mysha (a submissive closet rebel) and by the Muslim community she has grown up in and feels an integral part of. She does not question her father’s wishes, decisions and commands - at least not openly. She accepts, with minimal reluctance, the patriarchal role Zayan plays in her life and that her husband-to-be, cousin Ashik, will play in her life.
When she really wants to get her own way Jasmin can usually cajole and seduce her father with her sunny smile and her (mildly) risque sense of humour and….by letting him stroke her hair! Jasmin has never cut her hair. It is lustrous and hangs to her waist. Zayan takes paternal pride in its beauty. He strokes it tenderly when it hangs free – which only occurs in the family home and, as the story commences, only when Zayan requests that Jasmin ‘let her hair down’.
Early in the story Hannah meets a teenage girl who is going to act as a powerful catalyst for change in her life - 16 year old Fatima. Jasmin notices, after prayers at her mosque during Eid, how upset Fatima is after an interchange with her father. Jasmin asks if there is anything she can do to help. Fatima, white, shaking and with tears in her eyes, shakes her head. She refuses to talk to Jasmin in the presence of her family (closeby, outside the mosque) so Jasmin scribbles her phone number on a piece of paper and hands it surreptitiously to Fatima.
Jasmin is the family comic. Her mildly risqué jokes, told at the dinner table and at extended family gatherings, are most often at the expense of the Prophet Muhammad and his many wives. How difficult it must have been for him to satisfy the needs of so many women and keep them from ganging up and rebelling against him! Zayan is amused, despite himself, but warns Jasmin not to tell such jokes when she is with ‘uncle Bashir’ and Ashik - Bashir’s 27 year old son and hence Jasmin’s 2nd cousin. Jasmin has known Ashik all her life. As she grew up he was like the older brother she never had (and that Zayan wishes he had had). Jasmin idolized Ashik as a child and he has always been very protective of her. Ashik is a very earnest young man with little in the way of a sense of humour. Jasmin is the only person who can ever manage to get anything approaching a smile out of him – itself a running family joke. Ashik, who believes that Sharia law should be applied in Australia, that ‘honour killing’ is, under some circumstances, the only way that the honour of the men in a family can be retained, practices a form of Islam that, it will become apparent as the story unfolds, is quite fundamentalist. Ashik is in love with Jasmin, wants and expects to marry her and is destined to be her primary male antagonist in HONOUR. He is opposed to the idea of Jasmin going to university to study biology.
Zayan is not at all keen either on the idea of his daughter being exposed to the ‘dangerous ideas’ and ‘lewd’ lifestyles of young Australian men and women at university but with a tactical combination of humour and girlish coquetry (her hair a potent weapon!) Jasmin is able to seduce her father into agreeing to let her go.
Jasmin is an intellectually curious young woman, full of questions about biology (her passion) but one who has, prior to going to university, not applied her questioning curiosity to Islam or to the Muslim belief system and culture she has grown up with and taken for granted. This is about to change. Fast.
On her first day at university Jasmin meets Hannah - a Jewess who is as assertive as Jasmin is submissive, as outspoken as Jasmin is discrete, as loud in her dress sense as Jasmin (always wearing a hijab, for at least half the story) is restrained; whose mind is as open to all possibilities as Jasmin’s is constrained by the literal, traditional form of Islam she practices.
Under the influence of Hannah, Jasmin’s devotion to her Islamic faith is tested as her friendship with her new friend deepens and she embarks on a voyage of intellectual and sexual self-discovery. Her increasingly liberal interpretation of the Koran distresses her father, Zayan (a respected community-leader), whom she loves dearly and does not wish to hurt and whose reputation within the community she does not wish to damage. And her challenging questions about Islam anger both Bashir and Ashik. Ashik is a kind-hearted, softly spoken and gentle man but has quite old fashioned views regarding the respective roles of men and women. Even before he learns of Jasmin’s friendship with Hannah he is concerned that she has started to ask questions that a “good Muslim girl shouldn’t ask.” Jasmin makes playful fun of Ashik, which makes him laugh. He loves Jasmin. All in her family (including Jasmin) have expected her to marry Ashik since they were children. “A perfect marriage,” both Jasmin and Ashik’s parents agree.
Early in her friendship with Hannah, Jasmin receives an urgent call from Fatima and agrees to meet with her. Fatima, terrified that she may have been followed, confides in Jasmin that she will shortly be going overseas on holidays with her family; that she has learnt that her parents plan to marry her to her 30 year old second cousin whilst overseas. She does not want to marry her cousin and is at a loss what to do. It seems that there is more Fatima would like to tell Jasmin but that she is afraid to. No amount of coaxing from Jasmin will induce Fatima to say more.
Jasmin attempts to enlist the aid of her father, of Ashik, of ‘uncle’ Bashir and others to help Fatima but is told in no uncertain terms not to get involved in another family’s business. Whilst her mother and father do not condone such forced marriages, nor are they willing to speak out against them in public. Ashik shocks Jasmin by telling her that Fatima’s father knows what is best for his daughter and that Fatima should respect his wishes.
It is to Hannah that Jasmin now turns for advice on how best to help Fatima – without alienating her own family or unwittingly placing Fatima in even greater danger. Hannah, whose family is totally supportive of her freedom to think and act as she chooses, with no constraints placed on her by traditional expectations of the roles of Jewish men and women, urges Jasmin to throw caution to the winds, to go out on a limb, and to defy her father, her imam (and ‘uncle’) Bashir.
Jasmin adores her father, her family and the community she has grown up in. She does not want to alienate them. Hannah accusations of intellectual and moral cowardice sting and bring added complexity to Jasmin’s relationship with her new best friend. Against her better judgement Jasmin does rise to one of the challenges Hannah sets for her - encouraging her to exploit her sense of humour by performing one night at an ‘open mike’ night at a comedy club. Dressed as Muhammad, with a beard that covers much of her face and hides her identity (and calling herself Mrs Muhammad), Jasmin’s routine (replete with risqué jokes about the Prophet Muhammad’s many wives) is a hit with the audience. Unbeknownst to Jasmin, however, it has been filmed with a mobile phone.
The night of her first stand-up comedy performance is also the night that she first drinks alcohol and experiences her first kiss – with Hannah. The kiss is both thrilling and confusing to Jasmin – two experiences (“two very pleasant experiences”) that she has never had before and both of which, she tells Hannah, are contrary to her Islamic faith. Hannah laughs and asks Jasmin to find any passage in the Koran that declares female homosexuality to be a sin. Jasmin is shocked by the notion that she might be gay (“No way”) but on checking has to agree that whilst there are prohibitions against male homosexuality there are none against women having sex with women. Jasmin, a virgin still, is fascinated (shocked and titillated in equal measure) by the stories Hannah has to tell her of her own bi-sexual experiences. The sexual tension between the two young women is palpable but limited, at this point, to kissing. One such kiss takes place in the university cafeteria – an impulsive moment that Jasmin fears may have been witnessed by someone she knows.
It seems to Jasmin now that she is being followed, observed, stalked - by a man she has never seen before. Despite keeping her friendship with Hanna a secret from her family, (Zayan makes no secret of his dislike of Jews) could it be that Ashik has decided to keep tabs on his future wife in the vain hope that he can prevent her being infected by ‘infidel ideas’? Could it be that her father has got wind of the fact that she has befriended a Jewess – despite his having forbidden her to do so?
Jasmin’s hair, fetishized by her father and admired by Ashik, plays a significant role in the story. Is Jasmin’s hair her own? Or does it belong, as with the rest of her being, to her father and then, when the time comes (soon, Zayan hopes) to her husband-to-be, Ashik? This is one of the (many) questions that Jasmin is confronted by when she goes to university and has her eyes opened to a world and to ideas that she had no idea existed through her friendship with and then her love (both intellectual and sexual) of Hannah.
When Jasmin’s stand up ‘Mrs Mohammed’ routine is posted on the internet and goes ‘viral’, Jasmin panics – knowing full well how her family and the tight knit Muslim community will respond if it becomes known that she is Mrs Muhammad; of the hurt she will inflict on Ashik. She takes no comfort in Hannah’s ‘throwing caution to the winds’ attitude and argues again with her friend and now lover. It may be easy for Hannah to break the rules of her own culture but it is not for Hannah. The stakes are very high for a young Muslim woman who steps out of line, who defies convention, who disobeys her father and humiliates her husband-to-be.
Just how high the stakes are becomes quickly apparent when Jasmin and Hannah meet with a panicked and terrified Fatima, just days away from leaving for overseas with her family. She both wants and does not want to tell them why she is terrified. Before she does Fatima gets both Jasmin and Hannah to promise that they will tell no-one her secret. Jasmin and Hannah promise her. Fatima reveals that she is not a virgin; that she is in love with an 18 year old non-Muslim. Fatima’s mother, father and husband-to-be come from a village in which adulterers, non-virgin brides and homosexuals are either stoned to death or beheaded. In the highly likely event that her lack of virginity will be discovered by her 30 year old second-cousin husband on her wedding night, Fatima’s marriage could well be a death sentence for her.
In every aspect of her life now Jasmin has set herself apart from her family and the Muslim community that she wants to remain a part of. All her choices now are difficult ones – to be true to herself, to who she feels herself to be, or to fulfil the expectations of her family and community. Being the “good Muslim girl” that Ashik wants his future wife to be would necessitate that she end her relationship with Hannah, that she not help Fatima (and hence be complicit in the young woman’s ‘honour killing’) and that she swear off ever performing her comedy routine again. It would necessitate that she marry Ashik and act in accordance with his wishes, his demands and the expectations he has of the way in which a wife should behave, denying her own sexuality and career aspirations in order to remain on good terms with her family and community – the choice her mother made when she married Zayan.
The time has come for Jasmin to throw caution to the winds and to prevent Fatima’s forced marriage in whatever way she can – regardless of the consequences for herself and despite the promise she has made to Fatima to keep the loss of her virginity a secret. Helping Fatima is not as easy as Jasmin thought it would be. The authorities cannot act in the absence of a formal complaint from Fatima and evidence in support of her impending ‘forced marriage’. Fatima is too scared to make a formal complaint and has no concrete evidence. Jasmin’s task is further complicated when she is confronted, outside the family mosque, by a current affairs film crew asking if she is ‘Mrs Mohammed’. In front of her entire family and community Jasmin admits that she is Mrs Mohammed. This revelation is met with stunned silence, closely followed by intense anger on the part of her father, ‘uncle Bashir’ and Ashik. With the camera recording the exchange, Ashik tells Jasmin that she has brought shame on him and her entire family and that she must admit to her sin and promise never again to make fun on The Prophet in public or in private. Jasmin tells Ashik that she cannot make that promise. “But I am to be your husband!” exclaims Ashik. Jasmin shakes her head. No. She will never be Ashik’s husband. Again, stunned silence from all gathered outside the mosque. Hannah, who had been waiting in a car parked opposite the mosque has, during this exchange, got out of the car, walked across the road and has been observing. Only now does Jasmin see Hannah, however. With all eyes on her, with the camera recording the moment, she walks up to Hannah, takes her hand, turns and faces the crowd. “I am in love with Hannah,” she says with a smile before leaning forward and kissing Hannah lightly on the lips.
Jasmin’s many challenges and choices (now front page news) coalesce in the final action packed sequence of HONOUR when it becomes clear to Jasmin that there is nothing that can be done in accordance with Australian law to prevent Fatima’s parents taking her with them on their holiday to Afghanistan; nothing she can do to prevent Fatima from being forcibly married; nothing she can do to protect Fatima from her own family or the family of her husband if it is discovered that she is not a virgin; nothing she can do to prevent Fatima’s ‘honour killing’. Unless…
Sydney airport. Jasmin looks up at a sign announcing flight departures, finds the appropriate check in bay and runs to where Fatima and her family stand in a queue with their luggage. She moves to a position where she can catch Fatima’s eye. Fatima sees her, acknowledges Jasmin without her father noticing. Jasmin indicates with her eyes and a swivel of her head the red motor scooter parked out the front, with Hannah sitting on it. With her eyes Jasmin asks Fatima if she wants to escape. At this moment Fatima’s father turns to ask Fatima a question. She nods to him, taking her eyes off Jasmin.
A TV studio. Jasmin prepares to take part in a live debate in front of an audience comprising members of the Muslim and non-Muslim community. This, the final scene in the film, will be complex, multi-layered - one that draws together all the story and thematic threads that have informed the narrative. I include here only the bare bones of what occurs and jump towards the end of the debate.
There are a few surprises in store for both Jasmin and the audience in this scene. The first is that Jasmin’s chief antagonist in the debate is her uncle, Bashir. The second is that her father, Zayan, is in the audience. The Presenter makes clear as the debate starts, that Zayan will be called upon for his opinion, his point of view as the debate unfolds.
Jasmin is very respectful in her debating with her uncle, Bashir, and her attention is drawn, often, to her father in the audience – his demeanour for the most part stern, unforgiving.
Jasmin’s final statement is just that – a statement that reveals just how far she has come from the naïve young woman she was at the story’s outset. What follows is pre-first draft dialogue (monologue) but the ideas informing it should be clear.
Jasmin quotes from the Koran, “The Prophet says, ‘Believers! Conduct yourselves with justice and bear true witness before God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents or your relatives.’ Isn’t this verse a call for honesty, even if the people you love – your father, your uncle, your family - are offended by your honesty, your bearing true witness before God? And is causing offence such a bad thing? What did Jesus do but offend the Pharisees? And what did Muhammad do but offend the Quraysh – the powerful tribe he had to defeat to bring the light of Islam into the world? And what about Martin Luther King? He offended plenty of white people. And so did Nelson Mandela and the first lot of men and women who opposed the slave trade. Causing offence to the status quo is often the first step in initiating change. Sometimes, in the service of a larger cause, it is necessary to offend; to “bear true witness before God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents or your relatives.” And what is the larger cause here now in Australia? Is it that I am gay or that I tell jokes at the expense of the Prophet? Maybe. I think not. We could argue about this till the cows come home but maybe there is something we all share in common, something we are all offended by and something which, if we speak out with one voice, will result in our offending those who, in the name of culture, of tradition, believe they are obeying God’s commands as they interpret them from their reading of the Koran. Why do we respect cultures that condone forced marriages, which stone to death adulterers and homosexuals? Shouldn’t we offend them by saying out loud, with one voice, ‘This is wrong’? Shouldn’t we point out to these people, these fellow Muslims, that they could choose, instead, to respect the verses in the Koran, the words of the Prophet that make it clear that Islam is, can be, a faith of personal transformation. When Muhammad was asked, ‘What is religion” he replied, “Religion is the way we conduct ourselves toward others.’ This is the Islam I embrace. This is the Islam I love – one that encourages us to act with caring and compassion towards those whose way of living, whose beliefs, are different to our own.”
At a critical moment in the debate, the Presenter asks Zayan (who has followed all that Jasmin has been saying very closely) if his opinions have been swayed at all by what he has heard his daughter say. Zayan pauses for a long moment before saying, with great feeling and conviction, “I think that a merciful God will forgive me for approving Jasmin’s choice to live her life in a way that I do not understand and an omnipotent God…” It seems that Zayan may cry. There are tears in his eyes as he continues, his eyes looking directly into Jasmin’s, “…and an omnipotent God must have created you as you are for a reason. The Almighty knows best.” With this, Zayan smiles. So does Jasmin, for a moment, before returning to her monologue:
“I want to put a question to the audience about an aspect of Islam, as practiced in some parts of the world, that I find offensive. And if I offend anyone in the audience who defends of this practice, so be it. It is the practice of ‘honour killings’. Is there anyone in the audience who believes that this practice has any place in the modern world? Do we all agree that it is a tribal custom that should be condemned? Regardless of whether or not there are passages in the Koran that seem to condone it?”
Bashir shakes his head and no-one in the audience indicates their support for the practice.
“Your silence says it all. Then let me ask one more question. What would you do if you discovered that a young Australian girl was being taken, against her will, to a Muslim country to be married, against her will, to a man she has never met who is more than double her age and who, if he discovers she is not a virgin, will probably kill her, if her father and brother do not kill her first?
“Such things do not happen in Australia,” says Bashir.
“But if they did, would you speak out, cause offense by condemning the custom of honour killing? Would you offend the father or the husband by saying, ‘You cannot, in the name of God’ kill this girl?
“Of course,” replies Bashir.
Jasmin nods to the Presenter who lets the audience know that the next participant in the debate cannot, for reasons that will become apparent, speak for herself, but that she has given Jasmin permission to speak on her behalf.
Fatima, her entire body covered in a burqa, only her eyes visible, walks nervously into the middle of the studio. Jasmin walks up to her, takes her hand. There is a deathly silence in the studio. During Jasmin’s monologue the camera dollies in closer to Jasmin and Fatima.
“This girl, whose name I cannot reveal, but whom I will call Aisha, is 16 years old. Aisha is an Australian citizen, an Aussie girl who has never lived anywhere but Australia. She comes close to the top of her class in most of the subjects she does at school. She wants to study Social Work when she finishes school. Aisha’s family arrived in Australia as refugees from a Muslim country in which young women can be killed to restore the honour of her father and brothers if they believe the young woman has done something to bring shame upon the family. Aisha’s parents were born into a culture where such killings…such ‘honour killings…happen all the time if girls like Aisha are not totally submissive to the will and whims of their fathers, their husbands, their brothers. They came to Australia to escape from members of their own culture who wanted to kill them because they belonged to a particular ethnic minority.”
The slow dolly continues, excluding Jasmin from the frame as it moves closer in on Fatima.
“They made Australia their home and abide by Australian laws, but when they return to the country of the parent’s birth, it is the laws and customs of that country that apply. Aisha’s parents want her to marry her second cousin – a man who can neither read nor write and who has never travelled more than 50 kilometres from the small village he was born in.”
The shot has now tightened to the point where only Fatima’s eyes are visible, framed top and bottom by a curtain of black cloth. In a shot that is almost identical to the one that began the film, there is fear in Fatima’s eyes.
“Should her mum and dad be allowed to take her on a ‘holiday’ to a country she has never visited to marry a man she has never met and who would be quite justified, in terms of the culture and traditions of that country, in killing her if he found out that she had enjoyed freedoms that most Australian teenagers her age enjoy – if, that is, her own father and brothers do not kill her first?”
There is a long moment of silence. A very long moment during which Fatima’s eyes search the audience, waiting for a reply. There is none. Only silence. She turns her eyes to the camera, looks directly into it for a long moment.
fade to black.
Developing screenplays is a time and not a capital intensive activity that can accommodate other income generating activities. However, I am not in a position to pay a co-writer (preferably a woman with intimate first hand knowledge of the milieu HONOUR inhabits) or to pay a script editor – a vital member of any screenwriting team in my opinion. Regardless of the quality of this or any other of my feature screenplays in development (seven in all) I am not allowed to make an application to Screen Australia on the grounds that reading and assessing an application from me would place the reader at risk! This is nonsense, of course, but what of the accusation that I have intimidated members of Screen Australia’s staff with my correspondence? I am still waiting 18 months down the track, for the Rachel Perkins, Claudia Karvan, Richard Keddie and Rosemary Blight (along with other non-filmmaking members of the Board) to provide me with even one phrase from my correspondence that is either intimidating or which places the reader at risk.