The hijab carries a profound significance beyond being a mere garment. As Ilhan Omar once eloquently expressed, “It embodies power, liberation, beauty, and resistance.” Yet historically, it has increasingly been manipulated for power. Tunisia’s struggle for independence from French colonial rule serves as an example of this.
Initially, the hijab symbolized the preservation of Tunisian cultural identity, championed by nationalist leader Habib Bourguiba. However, after achieving independence, Bourguiba abruptly shifted his stance, denouncing the hijab as regressive and advocating for Westernization.
This olden times situation shows a repeating pattern: powerful men using the hijab and religion itself to control women. In this background, Kaouther Ben Hania’s Four Daughters, serves as an outstanding film that challenges simplified depictions of Islam. Moreover, the movie distinctively separates the goodness of religion from the patriarchal desire to dominate. It vividly portrays the profound influence of shared struggles, encompassing mistreatment, gender bias, oppressive upbringings, power dynamics, and political turmoil.
The film centers around Olfa and her daughters, blurring the lines between documentary and fiction. Using hired actors, the real-life story of Olfa and her daughters in ISIS unfolds in real-time. This technique blurs boundaries, with renowned actress Hend Sabri as Olfa, Olfa’s daughters Eya and Taysir playing themselves, and actresses Ichraq Matar and Nour Karoui as the missing daughters. The men, portrayed by Majid Mastoura, collectively symbolize the patriarchal force that brings pain to Olfa’s life.
Examining the intricate bond between Olfa and her daughters’ vanishing, the film navigates her multifaceted motherhood amidst their mysterious absence. Against this backdrop, societal dynamics come into focus, further accentuated by the intentional casting of Hend Sabry, a renowned Tunisian actress associated with liberal views. In the present moment, we ponder the potential outcome had Olfa embraced a more liberal parenting approach.
This deliberate inclusion challenges conventional narratives and encourages a reevaluation of the impact of personal choices and societal influences. Initially depicted as liberal and strong-willed, Olfa embodies the oppressive system that once oppressed her, perpetuating its cycle. Four Daughters shows Olfa’s daughters, who, feeling powerless, find an outlet and a sense of empowerment through religion. They embrace religion to reclaim power, losing sight of its true purpose, falling into a dangerous, power-blinded trap. The daughters use religion to feel superior, revealing the relationship between personal agency and the allure of extremism.
While the film may seem dark and bleak, the film reminds us that future generations have the power to break free from this cycle. Olfa’s remaining daughters are deeply thoughtful and strong, and it is clear that with people like them at the helm of our generation, we will be okay. At its core, Four Daughters offers a hopeful reminder that the future lies in the hands of strong individuals who dare to challenge oppressive systems, like Olfa’s daughters.
Through insightful storytelling, Ben Hania weaves together personal experiences, societal pressures, and geopolitical forces, to create an intricate tapestry. The film emphasizes the urgent need to separate religion from its historic weaponization as a tool of subjugation, providing a nuanced perspective that empowers women and dismantles oppressive structures. Four Daughters is a powerful reminder to be introspective around our own understanding of religion, recognize its true purity, and resist the forces that seek to exploit it for their own gain.
Four Daughters releases in theaters in France July 5.